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Rutgers official breaks down lack of coronavirus testing, treatment for uninsured individuals

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing is not going to be needed as frequently at this point of the pandemic, Rutgers official says. – Photo by Mufid Majnun / Unsplash

This past month, due to a decline in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) relief funds, many clinics and hospitals stopped offering free testing to uninsured individuals.

Initially, $15 billion in COVID-19 relief funding was attached to the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022, a government spending bill. Though by the time it was passed on March 11, the funding had been cut out of the bill’s language. 

On March 22, the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) stopped accepting reimbursement claims for COVID-19 testing and treatment from health care providers. 

On April 5, the HRSA stopped accepting reimbursement claims for COVID-19 vaccines, as well. The agency said the stop on reimbursement claims was due to “a lack of sufficient funds.”

This means certain health care locations such as clinics and hospitals will no longer offer free access to vaccines, booster shots, treatments and tests for uninsured Americans.

In early April, Quest Diagnostics announced that patients not on Medicare, Medicaid or covered by private health insurance would have to pay $100 for a COVID-19 test ordered through a clinic or $125 for a test ordered directly, according to a press release.

The company was previously able to reimburse uninsured patients for COVID-19 tests, but it can no longer do so without new funding from the HRSA, according to the release.

Reynold Panettieri, vice chancellor for Translational Medicine and director at Rutgers Institute for Translational Medicine, said there is one clear problem with the government’s decision to decline additional COVID-19 relief funding.

The lack of free testing for uninsured individuals will mean that many people will not be likely to get tested unless they are required to, especially if there are expenses involved, he said.

“If there’s going to be an expense, people are not going to go and get tested unless it is absolutely required,” he said. “So the long and short of it is it’s not going to be a step in the optimal direction.”

Though, Panettieri also said the effect of the decision is not significant, and it ultimately will not cause any major changes in the pandemic’s state, as frequent testing is not as necessary as it was during the earlier times of the pandemic.

“The notion was that the pandemic was becoming endemic, so the utilization of the testing was going to be dramatically decreasing,” Panettieri said. “Plus, with the movement of the government not to require masks and such, I think the concept was that the testing wasn’t going to be as needed.”

He also said that the decision being made approaching the spring and summer is a positive aspect for a change like this to be made, as there will be fewer activities that will require close individuals to be in close contact with one another.

“It is also probably the best time to make this decision,” Panettieri said. “There is going to be less infections, people aren’t going to be indoors as frequently, so there’s a lot of give and take … but that is the rationale.”

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