Mayor Bill de Blasio is tested for COVID-19 in 2020. Credit: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office on Flickr
Sen. Chuck Schumer on Sunday called for free rapid at-home coronavirus test kits to be available at community health centers across New York as the number of virus cases continues to grow. While last week President Joe Biden announced private health insurers will reimburse those who purchase over-the-counter tests starting January 15, Schumer said it’s important to offer free tests to New Yorkers in the meantime, with the arrival of winter and the new Omicron variant.
Schumer wants the federal government to send a “surge” of free at-home tests to New York to be distributed at community health centers and their mobile sites across the state.
“While many portions of the country are waiting for the omicron variant to arrive, New York already has cases—but this doesn’t mean we should panic. It means we should be planning,” Schumer said in a press release.
“You see, a key to controlling Omicron is the at-home test, where you can swab your own nose, follow simple steps, determine if you have COVID, and take the right steps thereafter. Right now, these at-home tests are pretty affordable across the country, but they’re not free, but they should be,” Schumer said.
According to the senator, the funds to pay for the free tests have already been appropriated to the Department of Health and Human Services after the American Rescue Plan was signed into law by Biden in March.
Biden last week announced a new plan to control the spread of Covid during the winter through vaccinations, booster shots, workplace protections, and expanding free at-home testing for residents. Under the plan, the 150 million Americans with private insurance will be able to get at-home tests reimbursed by their insurance. Those not covered by private insurance will have access to free tests at community sites and rural clinics.
The Biden administration said it will issue guidance by January 15 to clarify that individuals who purchase over-the-counter Covid tests will be able to seek reimbursement from their group health plan or health insurance issuer. It’s unclear as of now how long it will take to get reimbursed for the tests, which typically cost up to $30 at pharmacies.
“It does require the individual to jump through some hoops,” Lindsey Dawson of the Kaiser Family Foundation told Time. “So they have to hold on to their receipts for the tests. They have to turn those in and follow whatever reimbursement process is required by the insurer. And they have to be able to afford to front the money. They have to be able to afford to wait for the reimbursement.”
The city’s Health Department currently offers free testing to all immunocompromised New Yorkers and those aged 65 and older at their homes, but requires an appointment.
“We have this tool we didn’t have early on—an at-home test,” Schumer said. “It’s one of the keys to keeping this recovery going, and we ought to use them.”
- New York City announces vaccine mandate for all private employers
- Hochul declares a state of emergency for New York to prepare for omicron variant
- New York City mandates vaccines for all city employees