Meet the company making COVID-19 tests for Google employees

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Final week, when many Individuals had been ready in lengthy traces and scouring drugstores for COVID-19 tests on account of the unfold of the omicron variant, some Googlers had been casually testing day by day from the consolation of their very own dwelling. The system they use, a $249 machine that churns out PCR check ends in 20 minutes, comes from a San Diego-based company referred to as Cue Well being. The company has been painted as offering COVID-19 testing for the elite, however Clint Sever, one in all the company’s cofounders and its chief product officer, says that the check was designed with accessibility in thoughts.

“We now have a membership mannequin the place for the value of a health club membership you can begin utilizing the product,” Sever says.

Right here is the at-home PCR COVID check machine that I imagine was given to all Google employees. Why aren’t these being mass-produced?? pic.twitter.com/c4bybB2ZBB

— Josh Kadish (@kadish_josh) January 11, 2022

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The Meals and Drug Administration granted Cue Well being, which was based in 2010 and went public final yr, emergency use authorization for its countertop PCR check again in March 2021. Early traders in the company embody actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, and political strategist Jim Messina.

Cue’s equipment includes two elements: a check cartridge and a reader. The check cartridges are $75 every and the reader is $249. For the bulk of final yr, Cue Well being bought its check completely to employers, most notably Google. It was solely two months in the past, in November, that the company launched a direct-to-consumer product. Now people should purchase the check and reader à la carte or as a bundle by its membership. The bottom tier is $50 per thirty days and offers Cue members 24/7 entry to on-line docs, 10 check cartridges, and a reduction on its reader ($149). Members should buy further tests at a reduced price of $60 per check. There’s additionally a $90-per-month membership that features testing that meets each U.S. and worldwide requirements for journey.

[Photo: courtesy of Cue]Cue Well being’s tests could appear terribly costly, however pricing for COVID-19 PCR tests is famously murky, with well being techniques charging insurers wherever from $150 to $395 per check. Insurers, for now, are mostly overlaying PCR tests administered in docs’ workplaces, however Cue Well being’s kits and membership are far past what most Individuals can afford. The company says that whereas insurers don’t at present reimburse for its product, Individuals can use their versatile well being financial savings accounts and well being financial savings accounts to pay for Cue.

Clint Sever [Photo: courtesy of Cue]It’s unclear whether or not there can be an uptick in reimbursement anytime quickly. On January 15, the Biden administration began requiring insurers to cowl eight at-home tests per individual per thirty days (notably, Medicare is not a part of that mandate). However insurers must cowl solely $12 per particular person check if it’s obtained by an out-of-network supplier. That will make it extra seemingly they’ll cowl the value of cheaper dwelling antigen tests than Cue’s more-accurate at-home PCR until the company can persuade them in any other case.

Sever says this can be a false dichotomy, noting “antigen testing doesn’t have the choice to have 24-hour virtual-care entry to docs.” He provides that his company is in conversations with insurers, however didn’t present additional element.

Throughout the pandemic, the company has labored with the Division of Well being and Human Providers and the Division of Protection to supply a number of million of its tests to varsities, hospital settings, correctional amenities, and nursing properties round the nation. “We’d look for further alternatives to work with the authorities to make the check accessible to many extra folks,” he says. He additionally believes insurance coverage protection is vital to broadening entry. An incentive for insurers, he says, is that Cue’s platform will ultimately have the ability to do way more than COVID-19 testing.

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The company can also be contemplating using its system to check for RSV (a typical, contagious respiratory virus); flu; strep throat; sexually transmitted ailments corresponding to chlamydia and gonorrhea; blood-glucose for diabetes; C-reactive protein for irritation; fertility metrics; and being pregnant. Sever argues that Cue’s $249 reader is price the onetime buy. “Proper now we consider the readers as an funding in a longer-term future with Cue,” he says. “The worth proposition will grow to be extra apparent over time. It’s already turning into apparent with antigen testing as a result of we’re seeing lots of circumstances which can be missed and that’s contributing to group unfold.”

For now, the Cue testing equipment stays a instrument for staff at well-funded establishments like the NBA, Searchlight Photos, Netflix, ConocoPhillips, and Goldman Sachs, that are sending tests to staff at will. Healthcare firms like Henry Schein, Johnson & Johnson, Memorial Hermann, and even the government-run Biomedical Superior Analysis and Growth Authority are additionally giving their staff entry to Cue Well being’s fast at-home testing platform. The Mayo Clinic, which vetted Cue’s test, makes use of the system for its healthcare staff.

Sever concludes, “Folks shouldn’t have to decide on between quick however doubtlessly inaccurate and delayed or gradual however correct.”