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Free at-home COVID tests could help California dental practices comply with testing mandate

Americans can now order third set of free tests through federal government; health plans required to cover up to eight tests monthly

January 20, 2022 4072

Quick Summary:

The free tests present an opportunity for California dentists who are complying with the state’s vaccinate-or-test mandate that has been in force since Aug. 23. Although dentists may still need to pay for time required to administer the test, they can use the results of the free test if the employee opts to use it to satisfy the weekly-testing requirement or the exposure requirements for returning to work. Additionally, individuals can receive at no cost up to eight at-home COVID-19 tests monthly through their health insurer or plan.

May 18 update: Third set of free COVID tests available to U.S. households 

Americans can order a third set of free COVID-19 tests through the federal government at covid.gov/tests. The third round includes two packages of four rapid antigen tests for a total of eight tests. The packages will ship separately with their own tracking numbers and will again be delivered through the U.S. Postal Service.  

March 10 update: U.S. residents can order second set of free COVID tests

As of March 8, Americans who ordered free at-home COVID-19 tests through the federal government can order a second set of tests through the same program.

As before, the tests are rapid antigen tests, also known as over-the-counter tests, and are authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. One set of four tests is available per household. 

The additional tests are just one part of President Joe Biden’s National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan introduced last week as “a roadmap to help us fight COVID-19 in the future as we begin to get back to our normal routines.” The plan focuses on continued protection and treatment, preparation for new variants and surges and avoidance of economic and educational shutdowns. 

The free tests present an opportunity for California dentists who are complying with the state’s vaccinate-or-test mandate that has been in force since Aug. 23. Although dentists may still need to pay for time required to administer the test, they can use the results of the free test if the employee opts to use it to satisfy the weekly-testing requirement or the close-contact exposure requirements for returning to work. 

CDA members can purchase COVID-19 antigen testing kits from TDSC.com to further assist compliance with the weekly testing requirement for unvaccinated workers.  

Jan. 20, 2022: Every residential address in the U.S., including overseas military addresses, can now order four free at-home COVID-19 tests through the federal government at covidtests.gov, the Biden administration announced Tuesday. The tests are rapid antigen tests, also known as over-the-counter tests, and are authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

According to the government website, the tests provide results within 30 minutes, and instructions for use are included. The U.S. Postal Service will ship the tests “within 7-12 days of order,” the FAQ states. Shipping will commence the week of Jan. 24.

Health insurance plans must reimburse up to eight at-home tests monthly

The four tests and shipping are completely free when ordered through covidtests.gov, but as of Jan. 15, individuals can also receive at no cost up to eight FDA-approved at-home COVID-19 tests monthly through their health insurer or plan.

Health plans must also reimburse individuals for the cost of up to eight tests monthly if the tests are purchased upfront at preferred pharmacies. However, plans are not required to reimburse individuals for the cost of any tests purchased before Jan. 15. Tests purchased out of network can be reimbursed for up to $12 each by submitting a claim to the health plan.

The tests can be ordered through online retailers or local pharmacies and retailers. 

For more details, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services explains how to get eight free tests monthly through health insurance plans. 

Dentists can use free at-home tests to assist compliance with the testing mandate

The free at-home COVID-19 tests present an opportunity for California dentists who are complying with the state’s vaccinate-or-test mandate that has been in force since Aug. 23. The mandate requires dentists, dental staff, and other specified health care workers to be fully vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. (Dental practices in Berkeley, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties are following stricter local mandates that don’t allow for weekly testing except when workers meet specified exemptions.)

Although dentists may still need to pay for the time required to administer the test, they can use the results of the free test if the employee opts to use it to satisfy the weekly-testing requirement or the requirements for returning to work. The results from the free tests may be used for multiple reasons, such as returning to work or accessing venues that require proof of a negative COVID-19 test.

Administering the tests in the office would likely be more efficient than paying employees for their time to travel to and be tested at community testing sites, where lines and processing times may be longer.

The Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards specify that employers must have independent verification of workers' tests and results, such as date-and-time-stamped photos if workers are using an at-home test with self-read results.