Private health insurance plans will soon begin covering at-home COVID-19 tests, President Joe Biden announced as part of an expanded pandemic response strategy unveiled Thursday.
The Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury departments will issue a policy by Jan. 15 clarifying that people can seek reimbursement for over-the-counter COVID-19 tests from their health plans during the coronavirus public health emergency, according to a White House fact sheet. A White House spokesperson couldn't clarify whether the information would come as a regulation or a less-formal guidance.
The Biden administration must resolve questions such as how many tests will be covered and at what frequency, a senior administration official said on background during a media call Wednesday. Tests already purchased will not be retroactively covered, the official said.
People with public insurance such as Medicare and Medicaid won't be covered by this directive. But the administration also plans to send 50 million at-home tests to community health centers and rural clinics to distribute for free in an effort to reach those populations, twice its earlier commitment.
A COVID-19 relief law enacted last year requires free testing for COVID-19 without cost-sharing, and the administration has decided to extend that policy to at-home testing, the administration official said. Private insurers already cover tests in physicians' offices, pharmacies and clinics, but may limit that to health-related reasons and not pay for testing on those who are planning travel or must be tested as a condition of employment.
Insurers will continue to take action to ensure affordable access to testing, vaccine and care throughout the pandemic, AHIP spokesperson David Allen said in a statement. AHIP will work with the administration to understand the impact of the announcement on consumers, including making sure that price gouging doesn't spread to at-home tests and that clear rules and guidance are issued.
Biden released his new strategy the day after scientists detected the first U.S. case of a patient infected with the COVID-19 omicron variant. His newest pandemic mitigation plan outlines strategies for increasing COVID-19 vaccine uptake for children and booster doses for adults.
Biden also calls on businesses to continue implementing vaccine or regular testing requirements. Those efforts have encounter legal snags, however. One federal court has stayed the administration's vaccination requirement for large employers and another blocked vaccine mandates for heatlhcare companies.