Last week, as many Americans waited in long lines and scoured drugstores for COVID-19 tests due to the spread of the Omicron variant, some Googlers were casually testing daily from the comfort of their home. The equipment they use, a $249 machine that churns out PCR test results in 20 minutes, comes from a San Diego-based company called Q Health. The company is portrayed as providing COVID-19 testing for the elite, but Clint Saver, one of the company’s co-founders and its chief product officer, says the test was designed with accessibility in mind .
“We have a membership model where you can start using the product for the cost of the gym membership,” says Saver.
Here is the PCR COVID testing machine at home which I believe was given to all Google employees. Why are they not being mass produced?? pic.twitter.com/c4bybB2ZBB
— josh kadish (@kadish_josh) 11 January 2022
The Food and Drug Administration granted Q Health, which was founded in 2010 and went public last year, emergency use authorization for its countertop PCR test in March 2021. Early investors in the company include actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, and Politico. Strategist Jim Messina.
The Q’s kit consists of two parts: a test cartridge and a reader. The test cartridges are $75 each and the reader is $249. For much of the past year, Q Health sold its testing exclusively to employers, most notably to Google. Only two months ago, in November, the company launched a direct-to-consumer product. Now individual trials and readers can purchase ala carte or as a package through its subscription. The lowest tier is $50 per month and gives Q members 24/7 access to online doctors, 10 test cartridges, and a discount on its reader ($149). Members can purchase additional tests at a discounted rate of $60 per trial. There is also a $90 per month subscription that includes a trial that meets both US and international standards for travel.
Q Health’s tests may seem extraordinarily expensive, but the pricing for COVID-19 PCR tests is famous suspectsCharging insurers from anywhere with health systems $150 to $395 per test. Insurers, for now, are mostly Covering PCR tests administered in doctors’ offices, but Q Health’s kits and subscriptions are much more than most Americans can afford. The company says that while insurers do not currently reimburse its product, Americans can use their flexible health savings accounts and health savings accounts to pay for Q.
It is not clear whether reimbursements will accelerate soon. Biden administration on January 15 need started Insurers will cover eight home tests per person per month (specifically, Medicare is not part of that mandate) but insurers only have to cover $12 per individual test if it is obtained through an out-of-network provider. This may make it more likely that they will cover the cost of cheaper home antigen tests than Q’s more accurate at-home PCR, unless the company can refuse them otherwise.
Saver says this is a false dichotomy, noting that “antigen testing doesn’t have the option of 24-hour virtual-care access for doctors.” He further said that his company is in talks with insurance companies, but did not give further details.
During the pandemic, the company has worked with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense to provide several million of its tests to schools, hospital settings, correctional facilities and nursing homes across the country. “We will be looking for additional opportunities to work with the government to make testing accessible to many more people,” he says. He also believes that insurance coverage is the key to broadening the reach. He says an incentive for insurers is that Q’s platform will eventually be able to do much more than just COVID-19 testing.
The company is also looking at using its device to test for RSV (a common, contagious respiratory virus); flu; Throat infection; sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea; blood-sugar for diabetes; C-reactive protein for inflammation; fertility metrics; and pregnancy. Saver argues that Q’s $249 reader is worth an outright purchase. “Right now we think of readers with Q as an investment in the long-term future,” he says. “The value proposition will become more apparent over time. This is already becoming apparent with antigen testing because we are seeing a lot of cases that are missed and that are contributing to community spread.”
For now, the Q testing kit remains a tool for workers at well-funded institutions such as the NBA, Searchlight Pictures, Netflix, ConocoPhillips and Goldman Sachs, sending workers tests at will. Healthcare companies such as Henry Schein, Johnson & Johnson, Memorial Hermann, and even the government-run Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority are giving their employees access to Q Health’s accelerated home testing platform. Mayo Clinic, who investigated Q’s test, uses the system for its healthcare workers.
“People shouldn’t have to choose between fast but potentially inaccurate and delayed or slow but accurate,” Sever concluded.