WATERLOO — Despite an ongoing legal dispute over the jurisdiction of that organization, a group of Democratic senators is pressuring a national panel to act in a way that would have insurance pay for all Covid-19 tests without exception.
Four senators, led by Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass. ), wrote to Michael Barry, the head of the US Preventive Services Task Force, on Thursday, urging him to urge the national experts to give the Covid-19 tests their highest recommendation.
If this were to happen, the Affordable Care Act would require insurers to cover the product with no copay for enrollees. The request for insurers to pay for tests without charging a copay comes two months after the coronavirus public health emergency was declared over.
Patients can still receive free testing from payers, but a number of big insurers have either curtailed or discontinued no-cost coverage. For instance, Cigna declared in May that it would no longer pay for at-home examinations and instead institute cost-sharing for lab tests.
Lab test copays were similarly imposed by Aetna; other insurers’ variations were based on states and plans. Through September 2024, the tests will be fully covered by Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md. ), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) join Warren in arguing that Covid-19 tests meet the task force’s definition of an essential screening tool because they are designed to aid in the prevention or prompt treatment of disease.
The task force’s authority to mandate the coverage of preventative care is being contested, despite the senators’ pressure on Barry to act.
The Affordable Care Act’s provision was overturned by a federal judge in Texas in March on the grounds that the volunteer group of medical professionals lacked jurisdiction since they were not chosen by the secretary of health and human services, who was confirmed by the Senate and was therefore qualified to form committees.
While the case is being reviewed, an appeals court judge granted an injunction on the verdict in May.
This might have repercussions for a number of treatments, including cancer screenings and PrEP medication.
In an effort to “expedite” a decision, Warren urged Barry to let him know by the end of the month whether the task force would be recommending testing and when.
The senators enquired as to how the group would inform the public of its choice so that exams would continue to be free.
Separately, the Massachusetts senator met this week with Monica Bertagnolli, who is President Biden’s choice to lead the National Institutes of Health.
The senator pressed the cancer surgeon to sign a commitment promising not to serve on the board of a pharmaceutical company for at least four years following her term at the NIH.
According to two people who attended their meeting on Tuesday, Bertagnolli did not make good on his pledge.
Federal experts, including previous directors of the NIH and the National Cancer Institute, notably Ned Sharpless, have expressed dissatisfaction over the deadlock.
Sharpless argued on Twitter that a two-year commitment to ethics was sufficient under the Obama and Trump administrations. Talented individuals won’t be able to join the government workforce because of the requirement for four years.
Since Francis Collins’ resignation in December 2021, the NIH has been without a permanent director for more than a year and a half.