KALAMAZOO, Mich. — In an effort to expand access to free COVID-19 testing, the U.S Department of Health and Human services announced Monday that private health insurers will be required to cover the cost of over-the-counter, at-home COVID-19 tests.
The new policy went into effect Saturday as demand for testing is up and finding or scheduling a test has become more challenging.
People with private health coverage can now go online or to a pharmacy to buy a test and either get it paid for up front by their health plan, or get reimbursed for the cost by submitting a claim with receipts to their insurer.
Under this new policy, insurance companies and health plans are required to cover eight free over-the-counter, at-home tests per covered individual, per month.
That means a family of four, all on the same plan, would be able to get up to 32 of these tests covered by their health plan per month.
As the omicron variant spreads and hospitals are overwhelmed, health leaders are urging people to get tested, vaccinated and boosted.
Senior vice president of the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, Laura Appel, said removing cost barriers for testing is necessary and getting tested is critical.
"Omicron is very pervasive in our state right now," said Appel. "By testing and making sure you do or do not have COVID, you can help cut the spread of this disease, then you help keep hospitalizations down which helps healthcare workers which helps everything in general."
The executive director of the Michigan Association of Health Plans Dominick Pallone said insurance companies have some concerns about the new policy.
He said they are worried about the possibility of fraud, waste and abuse when it comes to covering at home tests.
"The concern with fraud would be individuals buying more tests than needed," said Pallone. "So we’re worried about hoarding that may occur, we're worried about fraudulently submitting receipts for tests that weren’t actually purchased by the individual."
He said he's also worried this will drive up the cost of insurance premiums down the line.
Pallone said the new coverage policy does not address the lack of testing supplies and he hopes the federal government will take further action.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human services said it will also provide up to 50 million free, at-home tests to community health centers and clinics for distribution at no cost to patients.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human services has partnered with libraries to offer free tests as well.
Over-the-counter tests are costing between $15 to $30 dollars for a pack of two tests.
If you don't have insurance, there are still free testing options available.
To find a free testing site near you visit the Michigan.gov website.
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