Who Pays for COVID Tests?
As workplaces require proof of health status, a new debate has started.
The Upshot’s Sarah Kliff highlights a “New Rule Raises Question: Who’ll Pay for All the Covid Tests?“
Spurred by rising Covid cases and the Delta variant’s spread, a wave of major employers announced the same rule for unvaccinated workers this week: They will need to submit to regular surveillance testing. The new requirement raises a thorny question: Who pays for those coronavirus tests?
Doctors typically charge about $50 to $100 for the tests, so the costs of weekly testing could add up quickly. Federal law requires insurers to fully cover the tests when ordered by a health care provider, but routine workplace tests are exempt from that provision.
“It’s really up to the employer,” said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms. “They can require employees to pick up the tab.”
If you had asked me a few days ago, I’d have said that it’s obvious that, if someone is eligible to be vaccinated and refuses, the cost of proving that they’re not infected should be on them. That’s the price of being a sociopath. But, now that we know that vaccinated folks who are infected are almost as likely to be asymptomatic spreaders, it’s not so easy. (UPDATE: Still, as @drj correctly notes in the comments, “vaccinated people have a far, far smaller chance of getting infected compared to unvaccinated people.”)
Indeed, our entire public policy seems out of whack right now.
President Biden announced rules on Thursday that amount to a two-tier system for the country’s four million federal employees. Those who do not get vaccinated will have to social-distance, wear face coverings and comply with limits on official travel. Those who do get vaccinated will have no such requirements.
The unvaccinated will also have to submit to regular coronavirus testing. Each federal agency will come up with a plan for testing its unvaccinated work force. The costs and procedures of each agency’s testing protocols will depend on the number of unvaccinated people they need to monitor.
“The agencies are going to be implementing this program themselves, so they’ll be in charge of how that moves forward,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said.
It’s not all that clear why we’d test only the unvaccinated if the only difference is in the likelihood that they’ll personally get severely ill if infected. Ditto face masks. If the purpose of wearing them is to protect ourselves, then it’s reasonable to make it a personal choice for the vaccinated, who have to balance the extremely low risk of serious illness for otherwise healthy under-65s against however much inconvenience they find masking to be. But, if the point is to prevent the spread to others, it’s not nearly as cut-and-dried.
Among the employers taking a different approach is Rhodes College in Tennessee: It will require unvaccinated students without a medical or religious exemption to pay a $1,500 fee per semester to cover the costs associated with a weekly coronavirus testing program.
Leaving aside the question of transmissibility, I understand why we’d waive fees for those whose medical conditions preclude vaccination. But, I’m sorry, superstition should not be considered a viable excuse for endangering public health. Being a Christian Scientist is no more protected than being a Trump supporter or Qanon conspiracist.