Thursday, February 2, 2023

Home COVID tests to be covered by insurers starting Saturday

WASHINGTON (AP) – Starting Saturday, private health insurers will be required to cover up to eight COVID-19 home tests per month for people on their plans. The Biden administration announced the change on Monday as it seeks to lower costs and make testing for the virus more convenient amid growing frustration.

Under the new policy, detailed for the first time in AP, Americans will be able to either buy home testing kits for free as part of their insurance, or provide test receipts to reimburse costs, up to a monthly limit per person. For example, a family of four may be reimbursed for up to 32 tests per month. PCR tests and rapid tests ordered or performed by a healthcare provider will continue to be fully covered without restriction.

President Joe Biden faced criticism over the holiday season for a shortage of rapid home tests as Americans traveled to see family amid a spike in cases from the more contagious omicron variant. The administration is now working to make home tests for COVID-19 more affordable, both by increasing supplies and reducing costs.

Later this month, the federal government will launch a website that will have 500 million COVID-19 home tests available in the mail. The administration is also expanding emergency rapid testing sites in areas experiencing the greatest spike in incidence.

Insurer-covered testing will significantly cut costs for many Americans, and the administration hopes that by lifting the barrier to more regular testing at home, it will help slow the spread of the virus, get kids back to school faster, and help people. it is safe to assemble.

“This is all part of our overall strategy to expand access to easy-to-use free home testing,” Health and Human Services Minister Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “By requiring private health plans to cover people’s home tests, we are further empowering Americans to get tests for free when they need them.”

Biden announced the federal requirement late last year and it will go into effect on January 15, but the administration has so far remained silent on the details of the plan.

The administration is trying to encourage private insurers to cover tests in advance and without the cumbersome reimbursement process. Insurance plans that work with pharmacies and retailers to cover the initial cost of tests will only have to reimburse up to $ 12 per test if purchased through an out-of-network retailer. Plans that are not moving forward to build a network of pharmacies will have to cover the full retail price that the customer pays, which can exceed $ 12 per test.

A large group in the health insurance industry said insurers would comply with the administration’s directive, but warned consumers that it would not be as easy as flipping a switch.

“Health insurance providers will work as quickly as possible to implement these guidelines in a way that limits consumer confusion and concerns,” said Matt Ayles, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans. “While there are likely to be some disruptions in the early days, we will work with the administration to promptly address issues as they arise.”

The group said it supports the provisions of the Biden administration’s plan to counter potential test price gouging.

The administration said only tests purchased on or after January 15th are refundable. Some insurers may choose to cover the costs of previously purchased in-home tests, but this is not required.

Mina Bressler, a mother of two and a therapist in San Mateo, California, was able to buy rapid test kits online and shared them with a parent who works in a service industry who doesn’t have time to “sit at a computer every hour.” updating Walmart page to see when tests are available. “

“I gave her some and her children went to school. This is one time, and hers is a million, ”Bressler said.

“Just as the advent of the vaccine has really shed light on the unfairness of what’s going on in this pandemic, I think testing is the new flashlight for that because who’s going to chase Walmart on the Internet? These are not the most vulnerable people in the area, ”Bressler added.

Americans with Medicare will not be able to get reimbursed for tests through a federal insurance plan, but Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program plans are required to fully cover the cost of home tests. Those not in the plan can get free tests through the upcoming federal website or at some local community centers and pharmacies.

AP writer Terry Tung of Phoenix contributed.

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