WASHINGTON, Dec 2 (Reuters) – The U.S. government will require private health insurance companies to reimburse customers for the cost of over-the-counter at-home COVID-19 tests under new measures to combat the pandemic that President Joe Biden will unveil on Thursday, administration officials said.
The rule on reimbursement will benefit some 150 million Americans who have private health insurance, a senior administration official told reporters ahead of Biden’s announcement.
Government agencies including the Health and Human Services Department, Labor Department and Treasury Department will issue guidance on the issue by January 15, the White House said.
The rule will not apply retroactively and does not cover people on public health insurance plans, the official said. The administration plans to distribute 50 million tests to rural clinics and testing sites to help cover those who do not have private insurance and those who do not have insurance at all.
Biden plans to visit the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Thursday and outline his administration’s strategy to fight the pandemic over the winter by bolstering efforts to encourage Americans to get COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, including steps to expand availability at pharmacies.
The efforts to expand testing come as the country and the world face new threats from the COVID-19 Omicron variant. Fears about the variant have pounded financial markets and created doubts about the speed of the global economic recovery as the pandemic rages on.
More than 775,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States alone, with vaccine hesitancy among a large chunk of the U.S. population thwarting Biden’s attempts to halt the virus’s spread.
The White House’s winter plan also touches on travel.
By early next week the United States will require inbound international travelers to be tested for COVID-19 within one day of departure, regardless of vaccination status. Mask requirements on airplanes, trains and public transportation vehicles will be extended to March 18.
Biden also will press companies to require employees to be vaccinated or tested regularly despite legal setbacks to his efforts to force employers to do so.
“The president will call on businesses to move forward expeditiously with requiring their workers to get vaccinated or tested weekly. This is especially important given the Omicron variant,” the White House said in a statement.
In early November a federal appeals court temporarily blocked Biden’s workplace vaccine-or-testing mandate for businesses with at least 100 employees.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason Editing by Shri Navaratnam)
Photo – EPA-EFE/PHILIPP GUELLAND