Coronavirus in the Workplace

President Biden Announces New Action Plans to Battle COVID-19 Including Mandate that Group Health Plans Cover Free At-Home Testing

By Christine M. Zinter - Bullard Law

December 2, 2021

Earlier today, December 2nd, The White House released a statement indicating President Biden will be announcing new actions to battle COVID-19 as we head into winter and face the new Omicron variant.

Of interest to employers and your group health plans is the President’s stated intent that by January 15, 2022, the Departments of Health & Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury issue guidance to clarify that group health plans and health insurance issuers must cover the cost of at-home COVID-19 diagnostic tests.

It is a fair assumption this new health plan coverage mandate is being promulgated in direct response to complaints about the currently enjoined federal OSHA Vaccinate-or-Test mandate for private employers of 100 or more employees. As you will recall, the federal mandate would require weekly testing for all unvaccinated employees but does not require employers to pay for the tests. However, many states’ laws (including Oregon) and collectively bargained agreements require employers to foot the cost of any employment-required medical testing.

While we wait for the forthcoming Agency guidance, we note the news release’s language: “[I]ndividuals who purchase OTC COVID-19 diagnostic tests will be able to seek reimbursement from their group health plan or health insurance issuer . . . Workplace screening would remain consistent with current guidance.” Currently, group health plans are not required to pay for diagnostic tests taken solely for employment-related purposes. It remains to be seen whether employers who wish to administer workplace testing, instead of directing individuals to secure individual tests, will benefit from this new mandate. Further, employers with self-funded group health plans will merely see the cost of testing shift from the employer’s general ledger to the plan’s annual costs.

The remainder of the Administration’s announcement includes:

Expanding access to adult booster shots and funding for an aggressive public education campaign to get the word out;
new programs to encourage childhood (ages 5-11) vaccination, including launching family vaccination clinics across the country;
reviewing school COVID-19 prevention policies to avoid quarantine closures;
strengthening public health protocols around international travel;
providing states with access to federal Surge Response Teams to help with medical supply and staffing shortages caused by a localized surge in cases and hospitalizations;
a promise to make any newly FDA-approved treatment pills equitably accessible to all Americans regardless of income or zip code; and,
continuing commitment to global vaccination efforts, including efforts to increase vaccine manufacturing here and abroad.

Bullard Law will continue to monitor this new development in the war on COVID-19.

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