The economic benefit of the federal government providing all Australians with free rapid antigen tests (RATs) – by identifying asymptomatic positive cases to lower the spread of COVID-19 – is highly likely to outweigh the cost saving of not providing the tests, new analysis by Flinders University researchers has revealed.
Following considerable public pressure over the past few weeks, the federal government has announced concession card holders will soon be able to collect up to ten free rapid antigen tests over three months.
We’ve developed a model that estimates how cost-effective a policy of government-funded rapid antigen tests for all Australians would be. We found a policy of government-funded rapid antigen tests for all is highly likely to be cost-effective.
How does our analysis work?
We created a “decision tree” model, which represents the testing pathways for a hypothetical group of people without COVID symptoms. We used it to estimate the number of COVID-positive people isolating before developing symptoms. It’s key people isolate as early as possible, to reduce the risk of spread to others.
What did we find?
In the group where everyone had access to free rapid antigen tests, the model estimates this policy would result in successfully isolating an additional 464 people early, compared with a group in which 20% purchased their own rapid antigen tests.
Providing free rapid tests for 10,000 people would cost the government $100,000, but spending less on PCR tests (which are about $150 each) reduces the additional costs to the government to around $52,000.
But the net effect is preventing an additional 464 people from infecting more people, thereby reducing costs to the economy of further infections. The costs of these people isolating only after developing symptoms would likely be far higher than the extra $52,000 spent on tests.
Dividing the $52,000 by the 464 earlier isolating cases gives us an estimate of the cost to the government per additional earlier isolating person with COVID – $112.
The less COVID circulating, the less effective a policy of free rapid antigen tests for all would be. But even with low prevalence, it’s still highly likely to be cost-effective.
Constraining the spread of COVID is important for many reasons, including avoiding short- and long-term health effects, reducing burden on the health system, and increasing availability of essential workers.
Easy and equitable access to testing is a cornerstone of the public health response to COVID. It also makes economic sense.
The article Free rapid antigen tests makes economic sense for governments, our analysis shows was published today on The Conversation.