White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki talks to reporters during the daily press conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on December 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C.Photo: Chip Somodevilla (Getty Images)
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki mocked the idea of mailing out free covid-19 tests to every American household on Monday, in just the latest sign that President Joe Biden’s lack of imagination is making the pandemic worse.
The Biden administration announced a plan last week to reimburse people for the costs of rapid covid-19 tests through insurance, but there are an estimated 28 million Americans without health insurance of any kind. And on Monday the White House press pool wanted to know why a complicated rebate scheme was being implemented when the U.S. could just follow the lead of other countries and make the tests free.
“There are still a lot of countries like Germany and the UK and South Korea that basically have massive testing free of charge or for a nominal fee. Why can’t that be done in the United States?” a reporter asked during the White House daily press conference, available on YouTube.
“I would say first we have eight tests that have been approved by the FDA here. We see that as the gold standard. Whether or not all those tests would meet that standard is a question for the scientists and medical experts, but I don’t suspect they would,” Psaki said, suggesting that other countries had scientifically inferior tests.
“Our objective is to increase accessibility and decrease costs,” Psaki continued. “If you look at what we’ve done over the course of time, we’ve quadrupled the size of our testing plan, we’ve cut the cost significantly over the past few months—and this effort to ensure insurers are able to get your tests funded means 150 million Americans will get free tests.”
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“Why not just make them free and give them out and have them available everywhere?” the reporter asked.
“Should we just send one to every American?” Psaki said, dripping with disdain for a good idea.
“Maybe,” the reporter replied.
“Then what happens if every American has one test? How much does that cost and then what happens after that?” Psaki said, thinking she’d someone gotten the upper hand.
The answer to Psaki’s questions should be “it costs whatever it costs because we’re in a once-in-a-century pandemic” and “what happens after that is you send people more tests because we’re in a once-in-a-century pandemic.”
“All I know is that other countries seem to be making them available in greater quantities for less money,” the reporter pointed out.
“We share the same objective, which is to make them more accessible, right? Every country’s going to do that differently,” Psaki said.
Then Psaki tried to pretend like other countries are somehow using inferior tests, a scare tactic that large pharmaceutical companies try to bring up when asked why prescription drugs are more expensive in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world.
“Again, our tests go through the FDA approval process. That’s not the same process… it doesn’t work that way in every single country,” Psaki said. “But what we’re working to do here is build on what we’ve done to date and continue to build out our testing capacity.”
Rapid covid-19 tests are available for free at virtually every pharmacy in the UK, but can cost about $12 each in the U.S. But American exceptionalism was on full display at the White House on Monday in Psaki’s efforts to convince the average person that somehow Americans are getting a better quality product than British people because they’re spending a bunch of money. The UK medical regulator, it should be noted, is just as stringent as the FDA when approving tests.
The U.S. reported 197,449 new cases of covid-19 on Monday and 1,351 new deaths from the disease, numbers that are likely artificially high from a backlog in reporting that happens every weekend. But even the seven-day average is disturbingly high relative to other wealthy countries, with the U.S. averaging over 118,000 new daily cases and 1,289 new deaths every day during the past week.
The U.S. vaccination rate remains stubbornly low, at just 60%, with political concerns still keeping many people from getting vaccinated against covid-19. But there’s not necessarily much President Biden can do to convince a third of the population to get the shot, given the country’s polarization.
About 9% of Democrats say they don’t plan to get vaccinated against covid-19, while 38% of Republicans say they don’t want to be vaccinated, according to recent figures from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Covid-19 isn’t going away anytime soon. But the last thing Americans need right now is to be told their covid-19 tests are expensive because they’re better than tests in other countries. It’s bullshit and simply shows a lack of imagination by the Biden administration for the possibility of bringing down health care costs in the U.S.