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Experts say at-home testing a way to save money

When it comes to getting tested, experts say, soon, we may not need to visit the doctor’s office or even leave our homes for fast and reliable results.

For Caitlin Donovan, it seems like her kids always get sick Friday afternoon. Along with being a mother, Donovan is also the senior director of public relations for National Patient Advocate Foundation.

“You then have to go to either urgent care or an ER because your primary care provider is closed, and that costs more money on your copay, and it costs the system more money because they charge more,” Donovan said.

Even if symptoms show up during office hours, you’re still looking at taking time off of work, which can mean lost income. But there is one thing that could help ease that burden along with transportation challenges — at-home testing.

“If I could have a simple at-home strep test, I’d know it’s strep,” Donovan said. “I could choose to show the provider that it’s strep and then they can just prescribe an antibiotic over the phone. That would be a lot simpler.”

It’s simpler and cheaper, said Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“I really do want to see a world where people have access to testing. They don’t have to go through hundreds of dollars of physician bills and hassle with scheduling and everything just to know – does my kid have the flu, can I send him to school?” Mina said. “The average markup is 40-fold of a test. That’s criminal, it’s bankrupting us as an economy, so I would like to see that change.”

“It’s almost a pure profit business, and it’s become a very, very lucrative part of the business for most health care providers,” said Jon Hess, the CEO of Athos Health. “It’s a very high fixed cost business, meaning that you have to buy the equipment, but to actually do the test, it costs almost nothing.”

Experts such as Hess say one silver lining to the pandemic is that we’re moving closer to that change.

“They’ve had to change the part of the payment model for the COVID testing, so we can get reimbursed by the insurance company,” Hess said. “So it’s possible there’s nothing stopping it from happening except for the system and kind of bureaucracy.”

“It shouldn’t be having to go to the doctor’s office and bring your kid there when they’re sick, it’s insane. And we have the tools now that could allow us to not have to do that,” Mina said.

It’s a change saving families time and money.

“This little device has the power to tell some person in the future if their kid has the flu, or, you know, whatever, it can look for all sorts of things,” Mina said. “I really do hope that one of the lasting effects of this pandemic is that we will see a democratization of testing, that people should be allowed to know what’s happening with their body.”

Credit: Detect.

MORE: Detect – A new molecular test for COVID-19

“Every family would benefit from inexpensive but quality tests for really simple ailments,” Donovan said.

Some insurance companies are already using at-home testing models. UnitedHealthcare says its new “Well at Home” program is for people experiencing flu-like symptoms.

Credit: UnitedHealthcare.

The program sends patients Tamiflu, a COVID-19 test, a thermometer and a free telemedicine appointment.

So far 400,000 people have signed up for the program.

Reporter:Veronica Marshall
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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