Arizona COVID-19 cases are rising, but free tests are harder to find. Here are some options

By Stephanie Innes |Arizona Republic

As Arizona encounters another wave of COVID-19 infections, a federal funding lapse means free tests are harder to find than during previous surges.

Independent testing sites in Arizona such as Embry Health and Valley Shield are no longer able to offer cost-free testing because of the lack of funding, operators say. Embry Health in April closed 60 testing sites across the state because of the federal funding problem. 

Without federal reimbursement, those companies say providing cost-free COVID-19 testing is no longer feasible. And without access so testing, many Arizonans may be going about their lives unaware that they are infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration’s COVID-19 Uninsured Program was created to reimburse health care providers for the costs of delivering COVID-19 testing and treatment services and administering vaccines to those who are uninsured, according to a March 28 Kaiser Family Foundation brief.

But earlier this year HRSA announced that because of lack of funding, the program would stop accepting reimbursement claims for COVID-19 testing and treatment services on March 22 and would stop accepting claims for vaccine administration on April 5. The problem has not been fixed.

As of March 28, the program nationally had provided about $19 billion in reimbursement for COVID-19 related uninsured claims: 60% of reimbursements for COVID-19 testing claims, 31% for treatment claims and 9% for vaccine administration, the brief says.

The federal funding shortfall likely is having an effect on public Arizona COVID-19 data, too. Fewer available free tests means people having COVID-19 symptoms may simply opt not to get a test, leading to an undercount of positive reported cases.

The Arizona Department of Health Services on Wednesday reported 14,677 new COVID-19 cases over the weeklong period ending June 4. That’s the highest case report since Arizona switched to weekly updates at the start of March. 

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