Requiring Prescriptions for Home Coronavirus Tests is a Bad Policy

December 14, 2020 Topic: Health Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Reboot Tags: CoronavirusPandemicCoronavirus VaccineFDAOperation Warp Speed

Requiring Prescriptions for Home Coronavirus Tests is a Bad Policy

Too many carriers of coronavirus are asymptomatic.

Last month I complained that the Food and Drug Administration requiring a prescription for the first‐​ever at‐​home COVID self‐​test defeated the purpose of at‐​home testing.

At‐​home testing is supposed to be about cost and convenience. Yet requiring a health care practitioner to determine you are symptomatic in order to prescribe the test completely undermines that goal. In fact, because of the concern that roughly 40 percent of people infected with COVID may be asymptomatic and unknowingly spreading the virus, it makes sense to encourage even those without symptoms to purchase and perform the at‐​home test, in order to more accurately determine who needs to be quarantined.

Yesterday, news headlines shouted the FDA approved the “first at‐​home coronavirus test kit that does not require a prescription.” There’s just one catch: according to the December 9 FDA press release, consumers may collect their own specimens at home using the test kit they purchase, and then send it in to the commercial testing lab Labcorp, which will run the test on the sample and issue a report.

Therefore, the press reports are misleading. This not an at‐​home test kit. It is an at‐​home specimen sampling kit. Consumers must send it in to a commercial lab to run the test. This again undermines the goal of testing as many people as possible—symptomatic and asymptomatic—by making it quicker, more convenient, and less costly.

It is also interesting to note that both of the FDA‐​approved test kits require intermediaries, who receive financial compensation from some source, for people to find out if they carry the virus.

As Michael F. Cannon and I point out in our paper, this kind of thing happens when government officials—instead of you—get to decide what tests and therapeutics you may take.

This article first appeared at the Cato Institute.

Image: Reuters.