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How Much Did The Government's Free COVID Tests Cost The Taxpayers?

CHICAGO (CBS) -- It was hailed as quick government action to stop the spiking number of COVID-19 cases around the holidays.

Each American family could get four COVID tests delivered to their door for free. While the rollout was smooth and cases have fallen, how much you really paid for those tests remains a mystery.

CBS 2's Chris Tye has more on the $2 billion question.

The U.S. taxpayer paid for the tests. The USPS delivered the tests. A Chicago based company was awarded one of the contracts to manufacture the tests. They likely made hundreds of millions on a deal that remains shrouded in secrecy.

"The federal govt will purchase one-half billion additional at home rapid tests with delivery starting in January," said President Joe Biden.

Three weeks late, companies were making them, three weeks after that they were arriving into millions of American mailboxes. It was four per household. But how much did you pay for each test?

A news release from the U.S. Department of Defense shows three companies split the nearly $2 billion the feds shelled out for the tests.

iHealthLabs of California, Roche Diagnostics from Indiana and Abbott Rapid DX North America, whose production is in Florida and whose parent company is based in the northern suburbs.

Abbott wouldn't say how much they were paid per test. CBS 2 got a similar stonewall from the Department of Defense and the U.S. Army. Last month, a Department of Defense spokesperson told Kaiser Health News this was fast tracked with...

"…approval from the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, & Technology to contract without providing for full and open competition…due to the urgent and compelling need…"

A federal database showed which contracts awarded to companies and while transactions with Abbott Rapid from 2020 show up on a search of the site, there's no sign of the contracts for those at home tests, likely values at several hundred million dollars. All this despite the Department of Justice's policy dating back to the 1980s which said:

"The prices in government contracts should not be secret. Government contracts are public contracts and taxpayers have a right to know, with very few exceptions, what the government has agreed to buy and at what prices."

This is only part of the half billion tests President Biden promised. The cost per test is something consumer watchdog groups said demonstrate whose getting the best deal: the taxpayer or the companies making the tests.

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