Embry Health, a leading coronavirus testing provider in Arizona, said it would suspend operations at 60 sites in the state and would no longer offer free tests for uninsured people, joining testing companies across the United States that have changed policies after the federal government said it could no longer reimburse providers for caring for COVID patients without insurance.
The federal Health Resources and Services Administration stopped accepting claims for testing and treatment 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 leading laboratories to perform 500,000 free tests a month for patients without coverage, according to the American Clinical Laboratory Association.
But without federal funding, major testing sites and laboratories like Quest Diagnostics are charging $100 or more for testing. The change may mean smaller services could shutter altogether, just as states are closing down mass testing sites.
On Tuesday, Republicans in the Senate refused to advance a $10 billion coronavirus response bill that would help fund vaccines, testing and therapeutics without a vote on border restrictions.
The same day, Embry Health, which has locations in Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, New Mexico and Washington, announced that it had made the “hard decision” to begin charging uninsured patients for PCR and antibody testing, after two years of providing free tests. “It’s devastating for us and the communities we serve,” said Raymond Embry, the company’s chief executive. “Its crucial that people have access to these tests.”
About half of Embry’s patients are uninsured, according to the company. The company tests about 2,200 people a day, down from 46,000 a day during the height of the omicron surge earlier this year.
The company said in a statement that “Embry was paying for the uninsured to get tests after the government funding stopped on March 22, 2022, but as of April 2, can no longer afford to do so.” Uninsured patients who visit Embry Health locations will now have to pay $100 per PCR test.
Raymond Embry said the decision was a result of uncertainty over whether future legislation would replenish funding for uninsured Americans. Now, he fears that an end to free testing for all will erode the nation’s already shaky testing infrastructure and leave it unprepared for another surge — in addition to hindering an accurate understanding of case counts.
Health officials say that testing is a crucial tool for both tracking the spread of the virus and reducing transmission. A lack of free testing for uninsured people leaves many communities vulnerable, particularly 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 operating in other states, Embry said. “If people do not have free COVID-19 testing available, they will not get tested, putting families and loved ones at risk,” he said.