Under a new federal rule, UVM insurance now covers Covid antigen tests

Rapid antigen tests at a Vermont Agency of Transportation garage in Colchester on Dec. 30. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Under a new federal rule, members of the University of Vermont Health Insurance Plan can now get free at-home Covid-19 antigen testing.

While the university had previously chosen not to cover testing, a rule issued by President Joe Biden required the school’s insurance plan — and any self-insured plans or private health insurance companies — to do so from January 15.

Other large Vermont employers with self-insured plans, such as the University of Vermont Medical Center and National Life, covered home antigen testing before the federal rule was put in place.

When announcing the new benefit Friday night, UVM officials made no mention of federal regulations detailing their obligation to cover antigen testing.

“As we welcome everyone back to a new semester, we want to provide tools and resources that help ensure the continued health and safety of employees and their families,” the administrators wrote in an email.

A university spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Under the federal rule, each person covered by an insurance plan can get up to eight free tests over a 30-day period.

With UVM’s plan – which is operated by BlueCross BlueShield of Vermont – members can get free Covid tests online and at most local pharmacies without paying an upfront fee, as they are part of the Blue Cross network, in accordance with politics. If members purchase tests from an out-of-network provider, they can be reimbursed for up to $12 of their purchase.

If officials ultimately decide to scrap the rule, plan members will receive 30 days’ notice before it expires, according to the announcement.

“Coverage of over-the-counter Covid rapid tests is intended to address the unique circumstances of the recent surge in cases, and may not be a permanent benefit,” the email states.

Administrators encouraged members of their plan to seek free antigen testing from state and federal governments. They also directed university employees to the school’s testing center, which offers them free PCR tests.

Vermonters with private health insurance have been able to be reimbursed for home antigen testing since early December, when Gov. Phil Scott issued an emergency rule similar to the new federal one. This regulation, however, did not extend to employers who regulated their own insurance policies, since state officials said they had no authority to regulate such plans.

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Still, Scott’s administration has asked employers with self-insured plans — usually large organizations — to do the same voluntarily, warning that the next federal rule will ultimately affect them.

Despite the governor’s request, the state’s flagship university chose not to cover the benefit.

“We regularly review employee health benefits to determine what changes might best serve UVM’s workforce within affordability for employees and the university,” the spokesperson wrote. ‘UVM, Joel Seligman, in a December email to VTDigger.

In November, UVM cited a Biden administration rule as the reason for its Covid-19 vaccination mandate for employees. The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the rule from taking effect last week.

In their announcement of the new benefit, UVM administrators said the goal of the insurance coverage is “to effectively and efficiently meet the health care needs of our employees and their families, while limiting costs for covered members and the university”.

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