Doctors and pharmacists in united call to continue subsidised COVID tests

Matt Woodley

12/07/2022 8:27:09 PM

The COVID-19 Rapid Test Concessional Access Program will not be extended beyond the end of July, despite the ongoing BA.5 wave.

Elderly person with positive COVID test.
The RACGP has said ending free rapid antigen tests for concession card holders will put vulnerable people at greater risk.

The RACGP and Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) have said concession card holders should continue receiving access to free rapid antigen tests, after the Federal Government announced the program will wind up at the end of the month.
In place since January, the COVID-19 Rapid Test Concessional Access Program has allowed concession card holders to access up to 10 free rapid antigen tests every three months.
But despite a new BA.5-driven COVID wave placing increasing pressure on healthcare systems, Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler has said it is ‘about the right time’ to end the program.
‘The price has come down dramatically. The cost was averaging $24–25 per test in January, they’re now down to about $8 a test,’ he told Melbourne’s 3AW.
However, RACGP President Adjunct Professor Karen Price has said the move will put vulnerable people at greater risk and make it more difficult to limit community transmission of COVID-19.
‘We can’t just have healthcare available to those who can afford it – accessibility for vulnerable groups on low incomes is vital,’ she said.  
‘Free access to rapid antigen tests … is particularly important for people with high risk factors such as underlying health conditions, those facing situations where the risk of transmission is high, and patients who can’t be vaccinated. 
‘We must keep in mind that $8 is a considerable expense for many people, and that some of us have jobs that involve regularly coming into close contact with many different people during the day.
‘When you factor in that someone may have to take multiple tests over numerous days you can see how it quickly becomes unaffordable.’
Adjunct Professor Price said the combination of increasing community transmission and limited PCR testing availability means it is ‘critical’ to ensure as many people as possible can access the tests when they need to.
‘If people can’t access rapid antigen tests, our entire health system will come under even more immense pressure,’ she said.
‘In order to access pathways of clinical care for COVID-19 in the community, including recently expanded antiviral treatments, it is necessary to have a positive test.
‘Determining whether an individual is COVID-19-positive also helps to stop the spread of the disease in workplaces and in the broader community. Remember too, if someone is uncertain as to whether they have COVID-19, their close contacts are at greater risk of spreading the virus.’
The college’s stance has been echoed by the PSA, with President Dr Fei Sim saying the decision to end the program puts vulnerable Australians at risk and also sends the wrong message to the public.
‘While recognising that our approach to test-trace-isolate has changed since the program was launched in January, testing with even mild symptoms remains an expectation of everyone in the community,’ she said.
‘With most states and territories adopting advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee to move from a three-month to a 28-day immunity period, access to testing will be vital, especially for vulnerable groups who’ve relied on the concessional program.
‘Let’s not forget that case numbers and hospitalisations are still rising every single day. Governments should be encouraging more testing, not less.’
Like Adjunct Professor Price, Dr Sim also pointed out the potential implications for people seeking oral antiviral medications.
‘A patient needs a positive COVID-19 test in order to access antiviral medicines, and for many concession card holders rapid antigen tests are the only way testing is accessible,’ she said. 
‘We cannot simply remove the main method of testing that’s accessible to these vulnerable groups. The result will be a lot of people not testing at all. 
‘PSA fully supports an extension of the concessional rapid antigen test program to make sure that our most vulnerable have continued access to testing when it’s needed.’
The RACGP has called on state, territory and federal governments to provide:

  • general practice with a stock of rapid antigen tests for patients with clinical indications and risk factors
  • high-risk locations, such as supported accommodation and residential aged care facilities, with a stock of rapid antigen tests
  • free access to rapid antigen tests for all Australians, supply permitting, prioritising target populations during supply constraint.
‘This virus is not disappearing anytime soon,’ Adjunct Professor Price said.
‘We must step up measures to reduce community transmission. Ensuring access to rapid antigen tests is an essential tool in the fight against COVID-19.’ 
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Dr Sylvester Kie Seng Ong   13/07/2022 2:09:18 PM

I totally agree with the above suggestion!