While the worst of COVID-19 may be behind us, it doesn’t mean we’re completely in the clear. If you catch any of the circulating coronavirus strains, you could feel just as miserable as if you had the original variant. Luckily, now there are medicines and treatments on the market to help you feel better faster.
What are COVID antiviral pills?
“COVID-19 antiviral pills are a treatment that may help your body fight the virus by stopping the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19) from multiplying in your body,” explains Janice Johnston, MD, chief medical officer and co-founder of Redirect Health. “This, in turn, lowers the viral load in your body and can boost your immune system to help against the virus.”
In December of 2021, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization for nirmatrelvir/ritonavir, the generic form of Paxlovid, an antiviral medication that works to improve symptoms of the omicron variant. Another antiviral pill used to treat the COVID-19 omicron variant is Lagevrio, commonly known by its generic name, molnupiravir. These antiviral medications are prescribed to prevent serious illness from COVID-19 that could lead to a hospital visit or death.
For these medications to work, they must be taken within the first five days of symptom onset, says Samuel M. John, Pharm.D., an associate professor of pharmacy practice at PCOM Georgia.
Are COVID antiviral pills free?
“COVID-19 antiviral pills are available for free in the United States for those over the age of 12 that test positive for COVID-19,” Dr. Johnston says.
These medications are free due to efforts by the White House to reduce the economic impact of COVID-19 and to get the country back to pre-pandemic life sooner. The Biden Administration bought COVID antiviral treatments like Paxlovid and Lagevrio, along with testing kits and vaccines, from the manufacturers and now pharmacies can order them for free through the federal government.
When this stockpile of COVID-19 resources runs out, consumers will no longer have free access unless the federal government agrees to make new provisions to purchase more. Through Medicare, and some state’s Medicaid programs, beneficiaries will still receive these resources for free while the COVID-19 public health emergency continues.
Medicaid enrollees may also receive testing and treatment services for free for at least a year after the emergency period ends. However, Medicare beneficiaries may face out-of-pocket costs for testing and treatment-related services when the emergency period ends.
How much does Paxlovid cost?
The good news is that these antiviral pills are completely free to those who need them for now.
“There should be no cost to the patient for Paxlovid, as it is currently being paid for by insurance carriers and the federal government,” explains David Culpepper, MD, the clinical director of LifeMD.
It is unclear how long free Paxlovid will be available, but for now there is plenty left if you need it. The government made a deal with Pfizer to receive 20 million treatment courses, and at the time of publishing, only about 1.7 million courses have been used by consumers.
Are COVID-related medical care and treatments free?
Treatment and medical care costs will depend on the severity of the COVD-19 symptoms you’re experiencing.
If you’re asymptomatic, you’ll require no treatment, so there are no associated costs. For mild to moderate symptoms, Dr. John explains that treatment would include antiviral medications, Paxlovid or Lagevrio, or anti-SARS-CoV-2 monoclonal antibodies.
“Five anti–SARS-CoV-2 monoclonal antibodies have received emergency use authorization from the FDA and are approved for the treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 in adults and pediatric patients who are older than 12 years and considered at high risk of progression to severe COVID-19,” Dr. John says.
Monoclonal antibodies are also part of the government’s stockpile of treatments. While the antibodies are free to patients, the actual cost for administering this treatment isn’t necessarily free. If you visit a doctor’s office or hospital to receive the monoclonal antibodies, you’ll likely be charged copays and other fees depending on your insurance.
For those with severe enough COVID-19 symptoms, such as cases requiring a hospital stay, there will likely be costs associated with treatment. The costs will depend on the length of stay and the treatment required, such as therapies for low oxygen levels or dehydration. Your insurance plan and the prices they’ve set with the hospital, as well as if the hospital is in- or out-of-network, will all affect the total cost of treatment.
“Today, there is no requirement for insurance to provide coverage for COVID treatments, although some insurances have elected to cover these costs,” Dr. John explains. “What benefits your insurance does cover can vary from insurance to insurance. State Medicaid plans, though, are required to cover treatment costs without any cost-sharing up until the public health emergency ends.”
Are COVID tests free?
“COVID tests were made available to the public in late 2021, allowing home testing to accelerate testing results,” explains Dr. John. “According to the Health and Human Services (HHS), low or no-cost COVID-19 tests are available to all patients in the U.S. at health centers and select pharmacies in the U.S.”
While the testing kits are free, the government has run out of money to reimburse the associated costs to perform these tests, like staffing clinicians and the time it takes to run the labs. If you do this testing outside of your home, like at a local diagnostic laboratory, you may now be faced with a fee if your insurance does not cover it. Be sure to call beforehand to get an idea of what you may pay.
If you’re comfortable doing the test yourself, residential households are able to order free COVID Home Tests through the United States Postal Service. Visit this site to order your free tests today.
By: Rebecca Rovenstine