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Biden administration launches pilot program for COVID-19 telehealth care

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Thursday announced the launch of a pilot program that will allow people to receive free testing, consultation and treatment for COVID-19 from their homes.

The NIH estimated up to 8,000 eligible individuals will participate in the pilot program, called the Home Test to Treat program, which will be led by local and state officials in Berks County, Pennsylvania.

“At-home testing for COVID-19 is now widely available in the United States, as are antiviral treatments, and this program combines easy home access to both,” said Bruce Stromberg, director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering at the NIH.

“The Home Test to Treat program allows those who are sick an alternative to venturing out for testing or treatment, potentially reducing the spread of COVID-19 in the community,” he said.

Other communities around the country will be selected to participate in this program based on need, socioeconomic factor and access to healthcare, according to the NIH. The agency said it is aiming to offer this service to up to 100,000 people in the U.S. over the next year.

The telehealth services for the pilot program will be provided by eMed, which will also host the Home Test to Treat program website. Data collected from this pilot will also be analyzed by researchers at the UMass Chan Medical School to determine the program’s impact.

Major pharmacy chains including CVS and Walgreens already offer telehealth services that can help facilitate treatments for COVID-19, and some primary care physicians also provide this option for their patients. Walgreens partnered with companies including DoorDash and Uber to offer free deliveries of COVID-19 antivirals last year.

The Biden administration launched the Test to Treat program in 2022 to help people access antiviral COVID-19 treatments quickly, as the medication must be taken within five days of symptom onset to be effective.

The program, however, has run into some hiccups since its start. Not all pharmacy locations have staff on site who are able to prescribe Paxlovid, leading to patients delaying treatment until they are able to acquire a prescription.

Some who test positive for COVID-19 may also lack the ability to reach a pharmacy and pick up their medication easily. While Paxlovid treatments have been subsidized by the federal government so far — a situation expected to end early this year without further funding from Congress — uninsured individuals have also run into roadblocks when trying to acquire a prescription, with clinic visits often being financially prohibitive.

Source: The Hill

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