Health Minister plans to majorly limit free COVID tests from July
Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has released the first draft of his “autumn strategy” for combating coronavirus. Among other things, the plan calls for free COVID testing under the so-called Bürgertest scheme to be significantly reduced. The plan will be discussed by the federal states on Thursday.
German health ministry wants to scrap free COVID testing for all
The “Corona Autumn Strategy”, which was made available to various media outlets in Germany, is a seven-point plan put together by the Health Ministry to curb the spread of coronavirus during the autumn and winter months. One of the major changes provided by the draft document is the restriction of free coronavirus tests to certain population groups.
Under the current Bürgertest scheme, every resident in Germany is entitled to at least one free rapid antigen test per week, regardless of their vaccination status or if they have symptoms or not. This scheme is set to end at the end of June.
From July onwards, the Health Ministry apparently wants to restrict free testing to make it available only to those who have symptoms and other at-risk groups such as small children and women in the first trimester of their pregnancy, and possibly people heading to major events where they are likely to have many contacts. Preventative tests before visits to hospitals or nursing homes would also continue to be offered free of charge.
The government wants to keep testing easily accessible via pharmacies and other regional facilities, but according to RND is planning to reduce the overall cost of the system by “about half” by paying test centres less money per rapid test and PCR test.
Some within coalition government against limiting free tests
The announcement was immediately met with outrage from certain quarters, with the Patient Protection Foundation demanding that free testing for all be extended beyond June 30. Chairperson Eugen Byrsch said that now was not the time to cut corners.
Dissenting voices even came from within the traffic light coalition. Green health expert Janosch Dahmen told Deutschlandfunk that his party was in favour of keeping free tests widely available to the population, adding that they were a crucial tool for keeping track of the pandemic.
However, Andreas Gassen, chairperson of the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, spoke in favour of limiting the tests, saying that they bring very little and are a heavy financial burden. Commercial test operators have already charged the federal government about 10,5 billion euros for COVID tests since the beginning of the pandemic.
Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach is due to attend a two-day summit with the health ministers of the federal states this week to discuss how to proceed with pandemic measures.