Online sites push up price of at-home COVID tests, no laws offer protection against price-gouging

at home covid tests
Posted at 5:26 AM, Jan 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-27 08:00:10-05

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may have paid double or triple the price for products like masks and hand sanitizer. Now we're seeing that for some at-home COVID tests.

"In early December a lot of these at-home tests were going for between $8 and $12 for a 2-pack. Then all of a sudden, like Mid-December when everything started ratcheting up, you started seeing online prices go up to more than $20 for a 2-pack," said Teresa Murray, Director of the Consumer Watchdog Program for U.S. Public Interest Research Group or PIRG.

At-home COVID tests quickly became in demand and out of stock, and now some are costing a lot more than they used to.

A simple Google search shows dozens of different at-home COVID tests with prices all over the place. Many sites are selling them in bulk.

Take, for example, one test kit by Abbott which includes two tests. The I-Team found a third-party website selling ten of these tests for nearly $300, so almost $30 per test.

At your local pharmacy, for the same brand, you'll pay $23.99 for a kit with two tests, which comes out to about $11.99 per test.

Murray's agency has been watching prices spike for COVID-related safety products since the start of the pandemic.

"How could people be so morally bankrupt to price gouge on products that we need to keep us safe?" she asked.

There's currently no federal law prohibiting price-gouging.

"There needs to be federal price-gouging legislation so that it's not this patchwork of well, Oregon does this and New Jersey does that and Ohio does this, and it's not so confusing and frankly consumers need to be better protected," Murray said.

For a period during the pandemic, Wisconsin law protected against price gouging. But now, that's not the case.

Wisconsin's price gouging statute is only in effect when the Governor declares a period of economic disruption within the state.

Lara Sutherlin with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection explains the state doesn't have the legal authority to go after a company for selling products at high prices.

"High prices, as you know, are a reflection of the market. If there's a high demand and there's short supply, the prices are going to go up," Sutherlin said.

"There's not enforcement of it, but folks can still do their research and find reasonably priced tests. They just have to give themselves the time to look for it," she added.

DATCP encourages people to sign up for the free at-home COVID tests from the federal government or visit a state licensed COVID-19 testing site. That way you don't have to pay to get tested.

If you do purchase an at-home COVID test and you have private insurance, keep the receipt because your insurer is now required to cover the cost of eight tests per month.

Murray suggests another option is turning to friends and family to see if they have extra tests on hand.

She says if you see a drastic jump in prices for products, you can reach out to the corporate office of the retailer, not the cashier.

"I wouldn't confront a store or a clerk because it's not their fault. They're just doing their job," she said.

Report a typo or error // Submit a news tip