Americans with private health insurance to be reimbursed for at-home tests

Americans with private health insurance will be reimbursed for at-home tests, President Biden is announcing Thursday, and international travelers will now be required to undergo stricter COVID-19 testing, according to a phone briefing by a senior administration official Wednesday.

The new measures the president is expected to describe in remarks at the National Institutes of Health are part of a new administration strategy to curb the virus this winter, as the new Omicron coronavirus variant prompts concerns about how easily it may spread, how severe its symptoms are and whether existing vaccines are effective against it.

International travelers will be required to test negative within one day of their departure to the U.S., regardless of vaccination status or nationality. The earlier Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order already applied to virtually all inbound international travelers, including U.S. citizens, but had allowed fully vaccinated travelers a 3-day window, compared to a 1-day window, to be tested for unvaccinated travelers, based on the agency’s modeling. The updated requirement would remove the extra days that fully vaccinated travelers had been allowed to be tested, an attempt to reduce the risk of bringing COVID infections into the U.S.

Mr. Biden’s remarks are not expected to broach domestic testing requirements or post-travel quarantine or testing requirements. Those who are uninsured or who have public health insurance, such as Medicare or Medicaid, will not be eligible to be reimbursed for at-home test purchases, although the administration will distribute 50 million free at-home tests at health clinics and other community sites. 

The changes are being rolled out a day after the first case of the Omicron variant was detected in the U.S., in a fully vaccinated person in Northern California who had recently traveled from South Africa. However, the measures the president will be discussing — which also include a nationwide campaign to ramp up booster shots and efforts to make sure kids stay in school despite the pandemic — do nothing new to get more at-home tests on the market. The senior administration official who spoke with reporters Wednesday night noted the administration has already worked with manufacturers to increase the production of at-home tests. At-home tests also will not be retroactively covered. 

The official said the administration will rely on the Families First Act, as amended by the CARES Act, to require insurance providers to make at-home tests free. 

As a part of the national campaign to increase booster shots, pharmacies will expand appointment availability, and millions of Americans will be sent texts, calls and emails to notify them of booster shot availability. The president will also announce the expansion of family vaccination clinics to be a “one stop shop” for grandparents, parents and kids to get vaccinated together. 

The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control will also review its school COVID-19 prevention policies so entire classrooms and schools won’t have to shut down over a positive case. 

The president will also announce the extension of the federal mask mandate on public transit into mid-March. It had been set to expire in January. 

— Tim Perry and Alexander Tin contributed to this report. 

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