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US orders private insurers to start covering at-home Covid tests

Starting Saturday, private health insurers will cover up to eight at-home Covid-19 tests per-person per-month.

WASHINGTON (CN)— Most Americans with private or group health insurance will have the cost of at-home Covid-19 tests covered by their providers starting Jan. 15.

Health and Human Services announced the move Monday as retailers struggle to keep up with demand for at-home tests sold over the counter in pharmacies during what has been a weekslong spike in coronavirus cases caused by the highly transmissible omicron variant.

Insurance companies and health plans will cover eight free tests per-person per-month, and there is no limit on rapid or PCR tests for people who have been determined to have a greater testing need by a medical professional.

The agency is requiring insurers to cover the cost of tests up front at preferred pharmacies and reimburse the cost of at-home tests purchased outside of preferred network locations for up to $12 per test.

Typical plan requirements such as deductibles or co-pays don't apply to the new policy.

"By requiring private health plans to cover people’s at-home tests, we are further expanding Americans’ ability to get tests for free when they need them," Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

State Medicaid plans are required to cover at-home Covid-19 tests, and Medicare pays for PCR and antigen lab tests. Health and Human Services advised people enrolled in state-run health care plans to check whether their plan covers at-home Covid-19 tests.

While the cost of testing is one hurdle to reign in the spread of omicron, at-home testing availability remains another with many pharmacy shelves empty and orders delayed.

Becerra said in a statement that the Biden administration is working on purchasing half a billion rapid tests that will be mailed to American households.

“Testing is critically important to help reduce the spread of Covid-19, as well as to quickly diagnose Covid-19 so that it can be effectively treated. Today’s action further removes financial barriers and expands access to Covid-19 tests for millions of people,” CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a statement.

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