New guidance from the Trump administration absolves insurers of the responsibility of paying for COVID-19 tests that are required for workers who are returning to the job.
The guidance, released by the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury, means that employers will likely either have to foot the bill themselves as they screen workers during the pandemic or pass those costs on to their workers. But in states that require employers to test workers, passing testing costs on to staff is usually not an option.
There had been some confusion about who would pay for the tests after the Families First Coronavirus Response Act required insurers to cover COVID-19 tests without patient cost-sharing. The new guidance has added a new caveat to that rule: that insurers cannot require health plan enrollees to pay for the test if it is deemed “medically appropriate” by a health care provider.
“Testing conducted to screen for general workplace health and safety (such as employee “return to work” programs), for public health surveillance for SARS-CoV-2, or for any other purpose not primarily intended for individualized diagnosis or treatment of COVID-19 or another health condition, is beyond the scope of section 6001 of the [Families First Coronavirus Response Act],” the guidance states.
Resistance from advocacy groups
The guidance was met with resistance from employer and consumer groups, with the advocacy group Families USA arguing that the nation’s workers should not be saddled with additional costs during these economically uncertain times.
Employers can require employees to be tested before returning to work, but the Pacific Business Group on Health said it would be highly unusual for a large employer to require testing for employees without paying for the tests in full.
Democrats have asked the administration to withdraw the guidance, but the White House has said it won’t and that it would like to see Congress come up with a solution in its next economic stimulus package for the coronavirus pandemic.
The HHS has said that states should use the $10.25 billion that lawmakers appropriated for testing to help pay for tests of returning workers.
Insurance companies may opt to pay for such tests anyway, as a precautionary measure. America’s Health Insurance Plans, however, is calling on more government support to cover the costs, which it says could be between $6 billion and $25 billion annually.