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Health insurers will cover 8 home COVID-19 tests a month starting Saturday, Biden administration says

Private health insurers will be required to cover the costs for up to eight home COVID-19 tests a month for every person on their plans, beginning Saturday, under a new policy the Biden administration detailed Monday. The administration is offering incentives for insurers and group health plans to partner with specific retailers so members can get tests with no upfront costs, but everyone with private insurance will be able to get reimbursed for tests purchased Jan. 15 or later. 

After taking flak in December for a national shortage of test kits over the holidays, just as the Omicron variant started sweeping through the U.S., the Biden administration "is working to make COVID-19 home tests more accessible, both by increasing supply and bringing down costs," The Associated Press reports. People without private insurance or on Medicare will be able to request free kits directly from the federal government through a website the Biden administration is set to launch later this month. 

The two main U.S. insurance trade groups said they will work to carry out the new requirements "in ways that limit consumer confusion and challenges," as Matt Eyles, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, said in a statement. Kim Keck, president of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, expressed concern "that the policy does not solve for the limited supply of tests in the country."

The research is mixed on how effective the rapid at-home antigen tests are at detecting Omicron infections, The Wall Street Journal reports, and there are special concerns about false negatives early in an infection. If used correctly, though, they are an important tool for limiting the spread of the highly transmissible variant. 

There are several approved at-home tests, and if you have a choice, the nonprofit group ECRI rates On/Go, CareStart, and Flowflex brand tests as "very good"; QuickVue, BinaxNOW, and InteliSwab as "good"; and BD Veritor as "OK (Marginally Acceptable)." You can read the pros and cons of each at-home test in their report.

The new Biden administration policy "will help millions of families afford COVID tests that allow them to be in school, visit family members, and live their lives," Sabrina Corlette, co-director of Georgetown University's Center on Health Insurance Reforms, tells the Journal. "It's not perfect, and there will be glitches, but the cost of these tests has been a huge barrier for many people, and this policy helps lower that."