The Biden administration won’t require insurance companies to pay people back for COVID tests bought ahead of the holidays

The Biden administration won’t require insurance companies to pay people back for COVID tests bought ahead of the holidays

Boxes of BinaxNow home COVID-19 tests made by Abbott are shown for sale Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, at a CVS store in Lakewood, Wash., south of Seattle.

Americans who buy over-the-counter COVID test kits aren’t guaranteed to get reimbursed. 
The Biden administration’s mandate for private insurers to reimburse such tests isn’t in effect yet.
The requirement also won’t be retroactive and will not cover the costs of past tests purchased. 

At-home COVID-19 test kits are flying off the shelves at pharmacies as millions of Americans prepare to travel for the holidays amid the rise of the new Omicron variant. Most of those able to snag a kit, however, are out of luck when it comes to getting paid back by their insurance. 

The Biden administration announced on December 2 that it would require private insurers to reimburse the costs of rapid, at-home test kits purchased over the counter. But, as The New York Times recently noted, the requirement won’t go into effect until January at the earliest —and it won’t require insurers to retroactively reimburse the costs of tests previously purchased for the holidays. 

“We said this when we announced the policy,” White House spokesperson Kevin Munoz confirmed to Insider in an email. 

The administration has said it will issue the details for the full regulation by January 15, but it’s unclear when the rule will formally go into effect. But for the rest of the holidays, as the Omicron variant continues to spread, most Americans will continue to shoulder the costs of at-home tests purchased at a pharmacy. 

“That reimbursement plan is not going to really help us over the holidays, when obviously the risk of transmission is highest,” one public health policy expert, the University of Maryland’s Zoe McLaren, told The Times

Most private insurance plans cover the costs of COVID-19 tests conducted in a medical setting or at a test site, but some currently only reimburse the costs of over-the-counter, at-home tests ordered by a doctor — not tests that people buy proactively before traveling or gathering. One state, Vermont, has already issued its own state mandate for private insurers to reimburse over-the-counter tests, The Times noted.

In addition to the reimbursement plan, the Biden administration announced it would expand free testing for those who are uninsured. As The Times reported, the rising demand for tests caused by the holidays and the Omicron variant is likely to run up against limited supply for tests, especially free ones. Many mass testing sites utilized earlier in the pandemic have since either shuttered or been converted into vaccination sites. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki dismissed the idea of the administration working to provide Americans with free COVID test kits, as many other countries do for their citizens, in an exchange with a reporter at a December 8 White House press briefing. 

“Should we just send one to every American?” Psaki asked the reporter back.

“Maybe,” the reporter responded. 

“Then what happens if you — if every American has one test? How much does that cost, and then what happens after that? Psaki asked. 

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