Embry Health, a leading coronavirus testing provider in Arizona, said it would suspend operations at 60 sites in the state and no longer offer free tests to uninsured people, joining testing companies in across the United States that changed policy after the federal government said so. could no longer reimburse providers for the care of Covid patients without insurance.
The Federal Administration of Health Resources and Services stopped accepting test and treatment requests for uninsured patients in late March. On Wednesday, the agency stopped reimbursing providers for vaccinating uninsured people.
During the Omicron wave, the federal reimbursement program allowed major labs to perform 500,000 free tests per month for patients without coverage, according to the American Clinical Laboratory Association.
But without federal funding, major testing sites and labs like Quest Diagnostics charge $100 or more for testing. The change may mean smaller services could shut down altogether, much like states shut down mass testing sites.
On Tuesday, Republicans in the Senate declined to advance a $10 billion coronavirus response bill that would help fund vaccines, tests and therapies without a vote on border restrictions.
On the same day, Embry Health, which has offices in Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, New Mexico and Washington, announced that it had made the “difficult decision” to begin billing unpaid patients. insured for PCR and antibody testing, after two years of providing free trials. “It’s devastating to us and the communities we serve,” said Raymond Embry, the company’s chief executive. “It is crucial that people have access to these tests.”
About half of Embry’s patients are uninsured, according to the company. The company is testing about 2,200 people a day, up from 46,000 a day at the height of Omicron’s surge earlier this year.
The company said in a statement that “Embry was paying for uninsured people to take tests after government funding stopped on March 22, 2022, but since April 2, it can no longer afford to do so.” Uninsured patients visiting Embry Health sites will now have to pay $100 per PCR test.
Mr. Embry said the decision was the result of uncertainty over whether future legislation would restore funding for uninsured Americans. Now he fears that ending free testing for all will erode the country’s already fragile testing infrastructure and leave it unprepared for a new wave – in addition to hampering an accurate understanding of case numbers.
Health officials say testing is a crucial tool for both tracking the spread of the virus and reducing transmission. The lack of free testing for the uninsured leaves many communities vulnerable, especially rural communities where demand may not be high enough to justify the cost of keeping testing sites open.
Embry Health is still deciding whether it will continue to operate in other states, Embry said. “If people don’t have free Covid-19 tests, they won’t be tested, which will put families and loved ones at risk,” he said.