More Troops Can Get COVID-19 Tests Off Base Under New Policy

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Soldier tested for COVID-19 before Saber Junction 20.
Soldier tested for COVID-19 before Saber Junction 20 at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center, Hohenfels, Germany, July 21, 2020. (U.S. Army/Spc. Audrequez Evans)

In a major reversal to a pandemic-related Pentagon health policy, active-duty service members will soon be able to receive a COVID-19 test off base -- even if they don't have symptoms.

The new policy, which goes into effect Nov. 9 and ends Feb. 28, 2021, allows doctors off-base to refer an active duty service member for a COVID-19 test even if they are asymptomatic, according to a temporary policy update released Friday. The test, known as nucleic acid amplification, typically uses a nasal cavity swab and only tests for active infection. It is only covered if the test is requested by a physician, the policy states.

The existing Tricare policy, issued in April, only covers the cost of testing if the patient has COVID-19 symptoms or has been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

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The policy update only changes coverage for active duty troops. It does not change testing rules for other Tricare users such as military retirees, military family members or Guard and Reservists who are not currently serving on Title X orders.

The update also allows overseas service members who get care off base to have tests covered based on the guidelines and standards in each region or country where they are located.

Rules on who gets tested by on-base medical providers are far more generous than those governing tests off base. On-base tests are provided on a tiered basis, factoring in need and test availability. Tiers one and two include troops working in medical facilities and those deployed, while tiers three and four are troops stationed overseas, followed by all others.

Pentagon and Tricare officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment about what precipitated the off-base test policy change, or why the change will not take effect until a month after the announcement.

The Pentagon announced in early September that five military treatment facilities will host COVID-19 vaccine trials. Those hospitals are Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMSD); Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio (BAMC); Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, San Antonio (WHASC); Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland (WRMC) and Fort Belvoir Community Hospital (FBCH), Virginia.

As of Friday, 48,513 U.S. service members have tested positive for COVID-19 and eight have died.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@monster.com.

Related: How VA and Tricare Users Can Get Tested for COVID-19

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