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Alexander, Blunt call on Azar to declare antibody tests free for patients

By David Lim

Two top Senate Republicans are calling on HHS Secretary Alex Azar to declare that antibody tests, used to detect if someone has ever been infected with the coronavirus, will be free for Americans.

Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Roy Blunt of Missouri argue Congress’ $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package allows Azar to declare the antibody tests to be covered in addition to diagnostic tests for the virus. The antibody tests could help determine the true size of the U.S. outbreak and determine who has immunity against reinfection.

“Free tests will help contain the disease and give Americans confidence that it is safe to go back to work and back to school and restart the economy,” the senators wrote in the Wednesday letter. Alexander chairs the Senate HELP Committee and Blunt is chairman of the Senate panel that oversees HHS' discretionary spending.

Former FDA Commissioners Mark McClellan and Scott Gottlieb cautioned in a Wednesday report that antibody testing is not a slam dunk to determine whether a person could return to the workplace. There are still big questions about how the virus behaves and how much immunity a person gains after being infected.

An HHS spokesperson told POLITICO the department is working to respond to the request. The department issued guidance Wednesday declaring that licensed pharmacists can order and administer diagnostic or antibody coronavirus tests authorized by FDA.