President Joe Biden announced Thursday that his administration plans to mandate that private health insurance providers reimburse people for over-the-counter COVID-19 tests to make those at-home kits free.
“You’ll be able to test for free, from the comfort of your home and have some peace of mind,” Biden said while speaking at the National Institutes of Health.
The president noted that COVID cases are expected to continue rising in the coming weeks and possibly further into winter due to the new omicron variant, which he called a “cause for concern but not panic.”
“We have the best tools, the best vaccines in the world,” Biden said, urging people to get vaccinated and get their booster shots, noting that more than 100 million people who are eligible haven’t yet gotten boosters.
The federal health, labor and treasury departments will issue the new guidance to insurers on covering over-the-counter tests by Jan. 15, according to senior administration officials on a Wednesday evening press call.
More than 150 million people in the U.S. have private health insurance and will be able to get the cost of at-home tests reimbursed. It remains to be determined just how many tests and at what frequency will be covered by insurers under the new rules.
For those who don’t have private insurance, the administration plans to distribute millions of free tests to community health sites, including rural clinics. There are currently more than 20,000 free testing sites across the country.
The reimbursement guidance is meant to bolster the fight against COVID-19 as the new omicron variant spreads. Omicron has been designated as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization.
The first case of the omicron variant in the U.S. was reported Wednesday in San Francisco. The variant, which was first detected by scientists in South Africa, has also been found in more than 20 other countries so far.
Researchers have yet to determine if the new variant is more contagious than previous variants of the virus, such as delta.
Even as there is still much that is unknown about omicron, vaccines continue to be the most effective barrier against severe cases of COVID-19 and the virus’s spread, providing vaccinated people with strong protection against hospitalization or death.
Biden also announced a new requirements for all international travelers starting next week: They must test negative for COVID-19 within one day of departing for the U.S., versus the current requirement of testing negative within three days. The U.S. already requires that all foreign travelers to the U.S. be fully vaccinated.
In response to the omicron variant, the U.S. and other countries had announced restrictions on travel from countries in southern Africa.
“If you’re not vaccinated, get vaccinated,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Sunday. “If you’re fully vaccinated, get boosted, and get the children vaccinated also.”