Mar 3, 2020 - Health

Coronavirus test kit affordability could hurt U.S. containment efforts

Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a briefing yesterday

Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a briefing yesterday on the administration's coronavirus response. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Now that the coronavirus diagnostic test works, the next issue to grapple with is whether it's affordable.

Why it matters: People worried about getting hit with large medical bills if they get tested for the novel coronavirus may delay going to the doctor, or not go at all — the opposite of what needs to happen as public health officials seek to contain the virus' spread.

What they're saying: "We are very concerned about affordability and access. We want to incentivize private sector development while protecting patients from costs and making sure they get the interventions they need to control the spread," a senior White House official said.

  • "I think the principle here should be that nobody has to remain sick and remain infectious because they can't cough up the money for a test or, eventually, a vaccine," Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) told me.
  • "Keeping the price down of a diagnostic test is gonna be critical. Because people aren’t going to do it" if it's unaffordable, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.) said.

Details: The CDC pays for the test, but that's unlikely to remain the case if and when it becomes available through private labs.

  • Patients could also struggle with the cost of the doctor's office or hospital visit itself, said the Kaiser Family Foundation's Larry Levitt.

Case in point: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last night that insurers in the state will be required to waive cost-sharing associated with coronavirus testing, including emergency room, urgent care and office visits.

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