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Lawmakers call for investigation into reports of at-home COVID test price gouging

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Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal are calling on the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation into reports of price gouging surrounding over-the-counter at-home COVID-19 test kits.

In a letter sent to FTC Chair Lina Khan Wednesday morning, the senators say the surging demand for at-home tests due to the Omicron variant is creating conditions that are "unfortunately ideal for predatory and profiteering behavior, including the sale of fraudulent test kits or charging exorbitant prices for those that are available."

Last month, New York Attorney General Letita James issued a consumer alert over potential price gouging after receiving complaints of at-home tests being sold at double or triple their retail prices. Some were allegedly going for more than $40, and even up to $70, per package.

Markey is also sending letters Wednesday to the manufacturers of at-home test kits, calling for them to lower their prices and to provide information about their manufacturing costs.

"I am particularly concerned that the cost of at-home rapid COVID-19 antigen tests significantly exceeds their manufacturing cost," Markey writes, citing reports British test makers peg production costs at around $2, but testing kits can sell for upwards of $20.

Abbott, Access Bio, ACON Laboratories, Becton, Dickinson & Company, Celltrion USA, Ellume Health, iHealth Labs, InBios International, OraSure Technologies and Quidel will all receive his information request.

The Massachusetts Democrat will also write to retailers, including Walmart, Amazon, Kroger, CVS Health, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Sam's Club, Target and Costco, seeking details on how they are marking the price for at-home tests.

In a statement to CBS News, Markey said that Americans need to be able to afford the at-home tests so they can "protect themselves, their loved ones, and their communities from the spread of COVID-19."

"While the federal government works to increase access to these tests, manufacturers and retailers should sell these critical and necessary tools at cost through the public health emergency," he said. "A pandemic is not a time to wring consumers for profit."

The inquiries come on the heels of the Biden administration launching a website where Americans can order free rapid antigen COVID-19 tests and have them shipped directly to their homes. Every household is eligible for four tests, and they will be delivered by the Postal Service beginning in late January. 

Last week, the Biden administration announced another initiative which will require private health insurance companies to cover the cost of eight at-home tests per family member each month with the goal of making rapid tests more accessible. Critics of the plan argued that tests still remain hard to come by, and that they should either be sent directly to Americans or be free at the point of purchase.

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