With home Covid testing becoming scarce during the Omicron surge, the price hike has started, and everyone from restaurants to pet food stores appear to be trying to profit.
Recent report from Vice found one Manhattan Deli has announced an Abbott BinaxNOW (retail price: $ 24) quick test on the seamless delivery app for $ 80. Meanwhile, an online-only pet store, Pet Foods by Village Farm, offered to provide the same type of test for $ 50, and a liquor store was selling a “Covid Fighter Pack,” including rapid tests and a hand sanitizer, for over $ 100.
There have been reports across the country that vendors are charging double or triple the normal costs for home Covid testing. New York restaurant worker paid $ 180 for four test kits, Los Angeles Times reported. And a Covid test site in the Mission District of San Francisco is said to be in charge between $ 99 and $ 250 for rapid tests.
Authorities have warned that this is a growing problem. In a December statement, New York Attorney General Letitia James urged people to report the price hikes. “Fraudsters are being told that if they attempt to drive up prices during this new surge, we will not hesitate to take action,” she said, adding that her office had already seen reports of kits. test “sold illegally for over $ 40 and up. at $ 70 per package.”
A pack of two rapid at-home Covid tests should cost around $ 25. This week, Walmart and Kroger raise prices for BinaxNOW rapid tests to market after a $ 14 government mandated.
The Biden administration tried to alleviate the situation by announcing plans to buy and distribute free 500 million rapid tests, and said today that home tests will be reimbursed by insurers from next week.
But, with clean drugstore shelves and queues at testing sites stretching for hours, people may be more willing to pay a premium to get tested.
The situation is reminiscent of the early days of the pandemic, when the onset of Covid sparked a wave of price hikes for personal protective equipment, such as $ 70 of hand sanitizer and N95 masks.
But how legal is this? According to United States Public Interest Group, a nonprofit focused on consumer issues, “Businesses are allowed to increase the prices of essential supplies in an emergency, but they are not allowed to excessively increase the price of products to take advantage of the pandemic. current. Laws vary from state to state, but raising prices by more than 20% could be considered a price hike, the group said.
In California, that number is lower. Increases of 10% can be considered as price increases. Violators can face fines of up to $ 10,000 and up to one year in prison.
“You shouldn’t increase prices during a state of emergency because people need essential supplies to keep them safe,” said Jenn Engstrom, state director of the California Public Interest Research Group, an advocacy organization. rights. Engstrom suggests that those who see suspected fraudulent pricing file a complaint with their state’s attorney general – most have a phone number to call or an online submission form.
California has broadened its definition of price hikes in 2020 to protect against tactics seen at the start of the pandemic, such as hoarding hand sanitizer and gloves to resell on Amazon. The new legislation filled a loophole in state law that prevented new sellers, which include these online resellers, from being sued.
“No one should get ripped off, especially on essential supplies during a pandemic,” Engstrom said, “and the rising prices for Covid-19 tests are totally profitable and should not be tolerated. “