With the holidays fast approaching and COVID cases spiking across the Capital Region, locals have been inundating doctor’s offices and urgent cares, trying to secure a coveted COVID-19 test. This comes on the heels of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent mandate that indoor events, like holiday parties, should be reduced to 10 people or fewer, and that curfews be placed on gyms, restaurants and bars. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention followed that up by urging people not to travel over the Thanksgiving holiday. For some, a COVID test is the only assurance they can have that they won’t be infecting their family over the holidays.
Up until recently, it hasn’t been all that difficult to secure a COVID test—even less so, if you have health insurance—but that seems to have changed overnight, with a massive increase in demand. And one national drugstore chain appears to be looking to cash in on that new crush of customers—especially here in the Capital Region.
While most locals have been able to secure a COVID test through their local doctor’s office or urgent care, one convenient alternative has been the COVID Rapid Diagnostic Test (a.k.a. the nucleic acid amplification test or NAAT), which, as of today (November 20), is still being administered for free at an appointment-only, drive-up clinic at the back of the Walgreens at 41 Holland Avenue in Albany, the lone branch in the Capital Region offering such a test. But if you go to Walgreens’ website and try to sign up for a rapid test at the Albany location, you’ll notice new literature on the page saying that the national drugstore chain will be increasing the test’s price from that convenient $0 to $129. When I called the Albany Walgreens’ pharmacy to ask when the price hike would take effect, a representative there said as early as December. However, she also emphasized that people who have already signed up for the COVID rapid test this week (or are in the process of doing so) won’t be charged the new fee just yet. (Saratoga Living contacted Walgreens’ corporate office, but it did not immediately respond to our request for comment.)
The rapid test, which is not 100 percent accurate, has been a suitable solution for many, including me and my wife, who don’t have the luxury of waiting days or weeks to get the results of another type of test (example: the antibody test). At the very least, it provides you with peace of mind, if you happen to be spending time with loved ones (my mother-in-law and brother-in-law visited our house a few weeks ago, and we all got the Walgreens test to ensure that we didn’t infect one another).
The literature on Walgreens’ website doesn’t explain the monumental price bump and only states that “the cost of Rapid Diagnostic Tests is $129, which includes your Walgreens visit and testing services performed on site,” which for weeks has been free of charge. It continues: “If payment is required, testing locations accept credit, debit, FSA and HSA cards. Cash and checks are not accepted for COVID testing. Patients actively enrolled in Express Pay will be able to pay for their test with Express Pay. If coverage is denied by insurance or government programs, patients may be billed for the full price by Walgreens and if applicable, the laboratory.” According to Peterson-KFF’s Health System Tracker, a raw rapid diagnostic test could cost as much as $850 or more, if a patient doesn’t have health insurance.