President Joe Biden has long been criticized for going too far on mask and vaccine mandates, but his plan to offer free COVID-19 testing is drawing vocal opposition from those who say it doesn't go far enough.

The plan calls for health insurance companies to reimburse patients for tests, but it faced instant backlash upon being announced last week.


White House press secretary Jen Psaki has been peppered with questions on the issue by reporters all week, leading to some headline-grabbing exchanges.

"Should we just send one out to every American?" Psaki asked rhetorically in response to a testing question. "Then what happens if every American has one test? How much does that cost, and then what happens after that? I think we share the same objective, which is to make them less expensive and more accessible, right? Every country is going to do that differently."

Many in the press called the comment a blunder, saying the sarcastic suggestion is exactly what the government should do and pointing to countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, and Singapore that have implemented similar plans.

While filling every mailbox in America with tests may be too extreme an approach, the Biden administration could certainly go further, argued Sabrina Corlette, the co-director of Georgetown University's Center on Health Insurance Reforms.

"I don't know what would be involved logistically in mailing tests to everyone's mailbox," she said. "It seems like an enormous undertaking. But I do think it's certainly feasible to have a more rational system where you could walk into a Walgreens or Giant and you could pick up tests."

Corlette said the word "frustrating" best sums up her thoughts on the testing plan because tests are a great way to track and halt COVID-19 spread. She touts not only European testing but America's vaccine rollout as models to follow.

"The current approach that the Biden administration is building on simply leaves too many barriers in place," Corlette said. She recently bought tests for herself and her children when a cold ran through the house, paying $100 out of pocket that she doesn't expect to get back, but she knows that's not a realistic option for many people, who will continue to attend work or school without knowing if they are infected.

Despite Europe's strong testing, easy access to tests hasn't stopped the virus from spreading. The U.K. and Germany both boast daily case rates higher than the United States, though their death rates per capita are lower. But with holiday gatherings approaching, Heritage Foundation senior fellow Doug Badger said he thinks more people will be looking to test before seeing loved ones.

"Not everyone would be willing to test themselves, of course, but most would want to know whether they have a contagious disease before getting together with families for the holidays or participating in other social functions," he said.

In the U.S., a pack of two tests runs between $14 and $34 on average. Badger would like to see that number drop to $1 or $2.

Another complication is that tests are already in short supply in some places, a situation that won't be resolved by making them free. And those who test positive aren't always guaranteed paid time off from their employers, which could undercut the real-world effectiveness of cheap and available tests.

One final concern for Corlette is that insurance companies under the current plan will be forced to reimburse tests regardless of the cost, which could lead to price gouging and higher premiums down the road.

The U.S. government has committed or disbursed $9.5 trillion so far in COVID-19-related spending, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Less than 0.2% of that has been spent on testing, a percentage Badger said the government can and should increase.


"Making affordable home tests broadly available at nominal cost will equip millions of Americans to protect themselves and their loved ones against the disease," he said.