German Health Minister wants to scrap free rapid Covid tests for all

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach wants to restrict access to free rapid Covid tests - known as Bürgertests - from July.

A rapid test station in Munich.
A rapid test station in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

According to the Health Ministry’s paper detailing Germany’s autumn Covid strategy, taxpayer-funded antigen Covid-19 tests will in future only be free to patients with Covid symptoms as well as some other selected groups. 

The plans were sent on Tuesday to the health ministers of the federal states, ahead of meetings being held on Wednesday and Thursday. 

Free Covid tests – also known as Schnelltests – are available at no cost to everyone in Germany, including tourists, until the end of June. 

However, they are not cheap – the federal government has reportedly spent more than €10.5 billion on free Bürgertests during the pandemic. Authorities also believe the free testing strategy has resulted in fraud of up to €1.5 billion.

On Tuesday evening, Lauterbach, of the Social Democrats, told German broadcaster ARD that he wants to see the tests “better controlled”.

READ ALSO: Will Germany keep free tests after June?

Under the Health Ministry’s plans, free antigen Covid tests would still be available in the following situations:

– For people with Covid symptoms.

– As part of preventive testing in nursing homes and hospitals.

– For children and people with increased contacts, for example before large events.

– For anyone who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons, for example during pregnancy in the first trimester.

– During outbreaks in Covid hotspots.

– For refugees fleeing war in Ukraine.

It’s not clear how this would work in practice. If the plans go ahead, it would mean that anyone who doesn’t have symptoms but wants to get a rapid Covid test, and who doesn’t fall into one of these categories, would have to pay for a test themselves at a centre or buy a self-test kit.

PCR tests are already generally only available free-of-charge to people with Covid-19 symptoms, or vulnerable groups. A doctor or other health professional can arrange this for patients, and the tests are then covered by health insurance. 

The Health Minister says in the proposals that Germany’s easily accessible testing infrastructure – including in pharmacies – should be maintained.

However, the federal government wants to pay the test centres less money per rapid antigen test and PCR test in future.

“The total costs are to be reduced by about half,” the Health Ministry writes in its strategy paper. The amendment to the test regulation is to be made by the end of June, the ministry adds.

READ ALSO: The Covid rules in place across German states

What’s the reaction?

Many people want to see free tests continue to be available in Germany. 

The Stiftung Patientenschutz (Patient Protection Foundation), for instance, is calling for free tests to be extended beyond June 30th.

Meanwhile, Green Party health expert Janosch Dahmen told Deutschlandfunk radio: “We are in favour of having widely available free tests in the population also in autumn.”

Yet others support a change in testing strategy.

The chairman of the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KBV), Andreas Gassen, said: “We should put a stop to random Bürgertests as soon as possible – they are of very little use and cost a lot.”

The proposals will be discussed at the talks between health ministers this week.

READ ALSO: German states seek powers to enforce tougher Covid rules in autumn

Member comments

  1. I have a question for the good people at the local

    Authorities also believe the free testing strategy has resulted in fraud of up to €1.5 billion. <– Why is this 1 sentence in a news article and not news by its own right. People are stealing 1.5 billion from tax payers pockets. Why is no one enraged by this?

    Thats at least 18€ has been taken from my pocket and given to a criminal. Thats the fraud they are willing to admit. Which means its probably alot worse. But don't worry, now only people with symptoms can get a free test. A symptom of Omicron is a headache. Hmm. I cannot see any scope for fraud there. Nope. None. I wonder has anyone else taken advantage of easy fraud without consequences during this period?

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


German doctors say Covid testing is too ‘expensive and bureaucratic’

Doctors in Germany have slammed the new Covid testing regime, which involves partly charging for rapid tests.

German doctors say Covid testing is too 'expensive and bureaucratic'

The German Health Ministry announced on Thursday that most people would have to pay a contribution rate of €3 to get a Covid rapid test, while they would remain free of charge for certain vulnerable groups.

But chairman of the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KBV), Andreas Gassen, called for an end to so-called Covid Bürgertests. 

“These nonsensical tests must be abolished,” Gassen told Bild newspaper. “They are far too expensive, the bureaucratic effort is huge and the epidemiological significance is zero.”

It is a “completely pointless exercise to test healthy people with (tests of) questionable quality for no reason,” Gassen said.

Gassen said, however, that PCR tests carried out on patients with symptoms are important to detect Covid infections.

If people in Germany have Covid symptoms, they can contact their GP who can arrange for a PCR test that is covered by health insurance. 

According to the new test regulation, which came into force on Thursday, the Bürgertests, which were previously free of charge for everyone, will now only be available for free to a limited extent.

READ ALSO: The new rules on getting a Covid test in Germany 

For instance, people who can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons can still get a free rapid test, as well as children up to five-years-old and some at-risk groups. 

Other people will be charged €3 per test, and under the new rules people have to state why they are getting the test.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said he hoped this would help combat fraud as well as cut down on the cost to the taxpayer. 

However, in a letter to Lauterbach, the heads of the 17 associations of statutory health insurance doctors said they “do not want to be responsible for making payments on invoices whose accuracy they cannot even begin to check”.

They said they “will no longer be able to bill and pay for the Bürgertests in the future”.

According to research by Spiegel, more than €1 billion was taken by fraudsters for Covid tests that never took place – or test centres that did not even exist.

READ ALSO: Germany starts charging for Covid tests 

On Thursday, Health Minister Lauterbach defended the new test regulation. He told broadcaster ZDF that he would have liked to keep the tests completely free of charge, “but we could no longer afford that”.

He said the additional bureaucratic effort for the tests is “manageable”.

Lauterbach also told RTL Direkt that the tests would now be more meaningful. “If everyone can just get tested as often as they want, without there being a reason for it, then too many tests will also be negative, or if they are positive, then often false positives.

“We have limited that so that the tests are more meaningful.”

In a tweet on Friday morning, Lauterbach said the Health Ministry was “already in constructive talks” with the the Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physician on the billing of tests. 

“The tests will remain, and will be invoiced correctly as of today,” he said, adding that they were “not pointless but help to prevent infected people from infecting others”.

A spokesperson for the Health Ministry told Bild: “The tests are not nonsensical, but save lives by breaking chains of infection. We assume that the KVs (associations) as corporations under public law, will continue to fulfil their mandate to bill and spot-check the test centres.”