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New Biden Covid-19 Plan Will Reimburse At-Home Tests

todayDecember 2, 2021 3

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President Biden will announce Thursday that the more than 150 million Americans with private health coverage will be able to get at-home coronavirus tests reimbursed by their insurers, and that international travelers must show proof of a negative coronavirus test taken the day before departing for the United States.

The moves are part of a new winter strategy to combat the coronavirus pandemic just as the worrisome new Omicron variant circles the globe.

Senior administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to preview the president’s strategy, said the administration would also distribute an additional 25 million at-home tests to community health centers and rural clinics to make them more available to those who are not covered by private insurers, including Medicaid recipients.

Additionally, Mr. Biden will call on employers to provide paid time off to their employees to get boosted. And the administration plans “a new effort to launch hundreds of vaccination clinics around the country,” according to a fact sheet provided by the White House.

The Biden administration has relied heavily on vaccination as a strategy to end the pandemic — too heavily, in the view of some experts, who have been saying for months that testing and mask-wearing are also essential to containing spread of the virus, and will become even more so if the Omicron variant escapes protection from vaccines.

The variant, first spotted by scientists in southern Africa but now present in more than 30 countries including the United States, has mutations that scientists say may allow it to spread more quickly and cause more breakthrough infections in vaccinated or previously infected people, though neither characteristic has yet been confirmed.

In the United States, coronavirus tests have been hard to come by because of supply shortages, and they are expensive — as much as $25 apiece. Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease specialist at Emory University, said that rather than have people go through the cumbersome process of seeking insurer reimbursement for tests, “we should just subsidize them and make it incredibly cheap.”

In Britain, he noted, rapid tests are free, and in Germany they cost about $1.

The reimbursement will not happen immediately, and it will not be retroactive, the senior officials said, adding that three federal agencies — the Departments of Health and Human Services; Labor; and the Treasury — would issue guidance by Jan. 15 to clarify that insurers would have to reimburse people for at home tests during the Covid-19 public health emergency. It was unclear how many tests people would be able to buy.

Private insurers already cover coronavirus tests administered in doctor’s offices and other medical facilities. But there are now at least eight at-home tests on the U.S. market.

Looking forward, experts envision a world where people will test themselves as soon as they exhibit symptoms — and then, if they are positive, quarantine and seek treatment with new antiviral medicines that are in the development pipeline. The White House says it is taking steps to secure 13 million courses of antiviral treatments.

Mr. Biden’s new strategy will extend the current mask mandate for airplanes, trains, buses and transit hubs until mid-March.

Only six states require people to wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status. Three more — California, New York and Connecticut — require indoor masking for people who are unvaccinated.

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todayDecember 2, 2021 3