Those who use the military health system can now get free at-home COVID-19 test kits at most Defense Department hospitals and clinics, officials announced Sunday.
Military health system patients can receive up to eight tests every 30 days. To receive the tests, beneficiaries must show their Uniformed Services ID or Common Access Card at distribution sites set up in military hospitals or clinics.
According to a Defense Health Agency press release, tests will be distributed only to beneficiaries with ID cards; patients cannot pick up tests for family members or other eligible users.
The benefit is provided in addition to home delivery of four tests available through the federal www.COVIDTests.gov website. Tricare beneficiaries also may pick up free tests at civilian federal, state or local distribution sites.
The Biden administration issued a directive Jan. 15 requiring private and group insurers to cover the costs of take-home tests sold at network pharmacies or fully reimburse beneficiaries for their purchases of the tests.
But federal health insurers, including Medicare, the Department of Veterans Affairs and Tricare, were not included in the ruling.
On Feb. 3, the Biden administration announced that the benefit would be extended to Medicare beneficiaries, meaning the reimbursement option is now available to military patients who use Tricare for Life, the program for older military health system patients that acts as a wraparound to Medicare.
Tricare will reimburse for at-home tests purchased at a retail store or pharmacy only if they are authorized by a Tricare provider and considered "medically necessary," meaning the beneficiary has symptoms of the illness or had close contact with someone who was infected.
Officials noted, however, that Tricare patients have "multiple options" to obtain free rapid antigen tests, such as the mail-order system, and can receive the more reliable polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests for free at more than 20,000 testing sites nationwide.
Lawmakers have pressed the DoD to cover the cost of the tests for Tricare beneficiaries.
In two letters sent to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in February, more than 45 representatives -- nearly all Democrats but including two Republicans -- said the benefit would provide the same "risk reduction measures the Biden administration has provided to those covered under private insurance and Medicare."
"In order to protect all Americans from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we encourage the Department of Defense to provide the 9.6 million TRICARE beneficiaries the same access to at-home tests with no cost-sharing or medical management requirements afforded to other Americans," wrote Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., and others in a letter dated Feb. 18.
While the pandemic is waning in much of the country, thousands continue to be infected, with a daily average of roughly 65,000 cases in the U.S. in the week ending Feb. 27.
From Feb. 16-23, 12,004 DoD beneficiaries, including service members, dependents, employees and contractors tested positive for COVID-19. Since the start of the pandemic, DoD patients have tallied roughly 599,000 cases of the illness and 676 have died, including 92 troops.
The VA has seen 606,881 cases as of Feb. 28, and 20,702 veterans have died from the illness, according to data maintained by the department.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.