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Insurers to Cover Home COVID-19 Tests Starting in January: Biden

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What You Need to Know

  • WHO says information on the clinical severity of the omicron variant is limited.
  • COVID-19 hospitalization rates continue to rise in the places hit by the omicron variant first.
  • The Biden administration will be trying to promote testing by distributing 500 million rapid home test kits through the web.

The federal government will soon begin distributing 500 million rapid home COVID-19 test kits through the web — and private health insurance may pay for many of those kits.

President Joe Biden talked briefly about insurance coverage for home test kits Tuesday, during remarks he made at the White House about administration efforts to control the COVID-19 omicron variant.

Private health insurance already covers the relatively expensive COVID-19 tests based on polymerase chain reaction technology. Those tests, which are typically given in hospitals, doctor’s offices and clinics, detect bits of the genes of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

“Starting next month, private insurance will also cover at-home testing, so you can order a test online and get reimbursed,” Biden said. “We’re providing access to free at-home tests for those who may not have insurance as well.”

Manufacturers will start delivering the 500 million test kits in January, and the test kit distribution team is developing the program guidelines and the distribution website now, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a briefing before Biden’s remarks.

Other administration officials said at a background briefing Monday that they expect private health insurers to reimburse enrollees for the cost of at-home test kits and that they hope the $500 million federal test kit distribution effort will supplement test kit purchases made with private coverage.

The kit distribution team is still deciding how many test kits each household can order and other program details, officials said.

Officials said they expect to deliver the at-home test kits through email, as well as continuing to help support about 20,000 testing sites.

Similar rapid home COVID-19 tests typically sell for less than $5 at shops in Europe.

More on this topic

The Biden administration has said that it believes it can use existing laws and regulations to require private health insurers to cover COVID-19 vaccinations and diagnostic tests.

The COVID-19 Omicron Variant Spreads

Public health officials in the Gauteng Province in South Africa, which has a large, active COVID-19 gene-sequencing program, first drew international attention to the omicron variant in late November.

Since then, the variant has spread to 106 countries, according to a World Health Organization situation report posted Tuesday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Monday that the omicron variant may now be causing 73% of new COVID-19 infections in the United States.

The United Kingdom also has a large, rapidly growing omicron variant outbreak.

“There are still limited data on the clinical severity of omicron,” WHO officials write in the situation report. “Hospitalizations in the UK and South Africa continue to rise, and given rapidly increasing case numbers, it is possible that health care systems may become overwhelmed. Preliminary data suggest that there is a reduction in neutralization of omicron in those who have received a primary vaccination series or in those who have had prior SARS-CoV-2 infection.”

The U.S. Omicron Response

Biden and officials in his administration said that the government has spent a total of $3 billion to improve COVID-19 testing and related pandemic response efforts.

Officials said the federal government will:

  • Begin this week to set up emergency testing sites in New York City and other areas that need additional testing capacity.
  • Have Google display information about free COVID-19 testing sites when a user enters “COVID test near me” in the Google search bar.
  • Continue to use the Defense Production Act to support and expand test kit production.
  • Ship gowns, gloves, masks and ventilators to states that run out of those items.
  • Send 1,000 military doctors, nurses and medics to help staff local hospitals.

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President Joe Biden (Photo: White House)