At-Home COVID-19 Testing Options and Alternatives

Jackson Lewis P.C.
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In fulfillment of President Biden’s promise to make at-home COVID tests more available for all of us, two significant action steps have now occurred:

  1. Every U.S. household has access to free at-home COVID-19 tests. As of January 18, 2022, any individual with a residence in the United States may request up to four (4) at-home COVID test kits.  There is no cost to register or for the kits themselves.
  1. At-home COVID-19 testing is available at no cost without a prescription under an employer’s group health plan. On January 10, 2022, the Department of Labor (DOL) released updated guidance and an FAQ that, as of January 15, 2022, now extends an employer’s obligation to cover all types of COVID-19 tests, between those performed or prescribed by a physician or other health care provider,  and for in-home COVID-19 tests provided without a doctor’s order.

Key Points:

All group health plans and insurance carriers must now cover the cost of at-home COVID-19 test kits, passing none of that cost to employees or individuals covered under the plan, and without requiring a medical diagnosis or prescription from a health care provider.

  • The plan or insurer need not provide this coverage to employees not covered under the employer’s plan.
  • For these purposes, the coverage can be provided through an employer’s medical plan, pharmacy benefit plan/PBM, or both. Employers should discuss the options and costs for administering this arrangement under their particular plan with their brokers and consultants or insurance carriers.
  • The guidance allows a plan or insurer to meet this coverage obligation in one of two ways:
    • The plan can work with its insurance carrier or third-party claims administrator (TPA) to create “direct contract” arrangements with retailers (e.g., Walmart, RiteAid, Walgreens, etc.) and other insurance network providers to provide COVID tests to covered individuals at no cost to the individual at the counter; costs are negotiated and paid between the plan/insurer/TPA with the retail service provider directly.
    • Individuals can also purchase COVID tests through any other resource and submit the receipt for reimbursement through the plan or insurer’s established process, either through the insurance carrier, TPA or PBM. The maximum amount to be paid in reimbursement is the lesser of: (a) the actual cost of the COVID test; or (b) $12 per test (note: if the COVID kit comes with two tests, the cost to be reimbursed would be per test or a maximum of $24).  The plan or insurer does not have to reimburse for COVID tests purchased before January 15, 2022.
    • Suppose a plan or issuer is unwilling or unable to satisfy the above criteria in providing the opportunity to receive COVID testing coverage under either of the above criteria. In that case, the plan or issuer must still provide reimbursement of at-home COVID tests without the above cost limitations.
  • The plan or insurer can limit the total number of COVID tests to 8 per person per month (or 4 kits if the kit includes two tests). A separate limit applies for each covered family member (e.g., a family of 4 could receive up to 32 tests per month (or 16 kits, if it includes two tests each).  There is no annual maximum limit.
  • An individual need not provide proof of medical need, but the plan can require the individual to attest that they are purchasing only for personal use (not for resale).
  • Employers are encouraged to communicate to all covered individuals about the alternatives available and processes for seeking reimbursement of purchased tests.
  • The obligations for coverage of at-home COVID tests remain in effect for at least the remainder of the Public Health Emergency period, which has now been extended to at least April 15, 2022.
  • COVID testing and other related costs provided at a health care provider or other health care facility as part of a medical assessment must still be covered 100 percent by the plan or issuer without being subject to the test or cost limits that apply for over-the-counter COVID tests, under previous guidance under the CARES Act, and the First Families Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

Employer sponsors of group health plans are likely to have received at least some information from their TPA, insurance carrier, or other brokers and consultants about the steps to be taken related to the guidance provided under the most recent DOL FAQ.  Members of the Jackson Lewis Employee Benefits group are also available to discuss options and alternatives. 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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