Biden's new winter COVID plan will reimburse you for at-home tests
Among his new steps to fight COVID surges this winter: requiring private health insurers to reimburse people for at-home tests. It also calls for more people to get vaccines and boosters.
A MARTINEZ, HOST:
With the first U.S. omicron case confirmed in the U.S. and delta continuing to spread widely in the country, President Biden will outline a new plan today for dealing with COVID-19 this winter. Only 59% of Americans are fully vaccinated, and it's not clear what else the Biden administration can really do to raise those numbers.
NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is here with a preview. Tamara, so what's the president got on tap today?
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The biggest new thing will be that if you have private insurance, you'll be able to get reimbursed for buying those home COVID tests. The federal government is going to require it. Right now, insurance companies have to cover tests done at pharmacies and labs, but that's going to expand to home rapid tests in the new year. There's a big emphasis in this plan on trying to get people to test more so they know when to isolate so they can slow the spread.
I had an exclusive interview last night with Natalie Quillian. She's the deputy White House COVID coordinator. Here's what she told me.
NATALIE QUILLIAN: We think this is the right policy. We also think it's the most economical policy because the costs of an individual getting COVID and going to the hospital and seeking those bills is much higher than the cost of any at-home rapid test.
KEITH: And for people who don't have private insurance, the government is going to buy another 25 million tests to give out free at community health centers and rural clinics.
Here in the U.S., the market for these tests has been really quite shaky. There have been times when it was hard to find them, especially during the delta surge. But in September, the White House spurred manufacturing of these home tests again with $3 billion in spending.
MARTINEZ: You know, the last time the president announced a plan - that was back in September - it was a big deal, a new mandate for big companies. Any dramatic decision expected today?
KEITH: Yeah, there were big surprises in September. We're not expecting them today - no new major mandates or targets for rapidly increasing the number of vaccinated Americans. Instead, Biden's plan to fight the virus this winter is a battle of increments - family vaccine clinics, more free and lower-cost home testing options, encouraging more businesses to require vaccines for their employees, stockpiling antiviral pills, strike teams to help with outbreaks.
The White House especially wants to try to increase the number of people who are getting booster shots. In total, 100 million adults have yet to get their boosters, something that the administration says could help against the new variant. You can expect to see a lot more ads about boosters, even text messages from your pharmacy. The White House will be working with pharmacies and the AARP to encourage people to make appointments. And there will be hundreds of new family vaccination clinics - one-stop shops if you will - later this month. Here's how Quillian described it to me.
QUILLIAN: For working families, for busy moms and dads, this is a really hopefully convenient way where they can go get their booster and their kid's shot all at the same time.
KEITH: And to be frank, the messaging on boosters coming out of this administration has been a bit of a muddle for months, with people not even realizing they could or should get boosters. The message now is quite clear - do it ASAP.
MARTINEZ: One more thing really quick. What about travelers? Because we've seen a ban on people from eight countries. Any more changes there?
KEITH: No new bans, but people traveling internationally will have to get tested for COVID within a day of leaving for the U.S. That will apply to Americans, whether they're vaccinated or unvaccinated, as well as foreign travelers. And masks will still be required on airplanes. That's being extended into March.
MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. Thanks a lot.
KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
An earlier version of this story said travelers will need to test within 24 hours of leaving for a trip into the United States. However, the requirement is better described as a day before departure.