Will Insurance Reimburse the Cost of a COVID Test for Travel?

by Ann deBruyn

Depending on where you are traveling, you might be required to take a COVID-19 test before departure. But, of course, this raises whether your insurance will reimburse you for the test. So the short answer is: There’s no one-size-fits-all answer.

Whether or not your test will be covered will depend on your health insurance and how you are tested. Let’s look at COVID-19 tests for travel, whether your tests will be reimbursed and tips for getting them covered.

COVID-19 tests for international travel

Although many international destinations have dropped requirements for COVID-19 test results for entry, many still maintain regulations for testing. Therefore, the need for testing will vary depending on the country you’re entering. For example, some may specify that testing occurs within the last 48 hours before entry. Others may be laxer.

Happily, for travelers, U.S. government regulations have expanded access to free or reimbursed COVID-19 tests. As a result, testing will cost nothing in many cases, even if you’re getting it done to travel.

One of the nation’s largest not-for-profit health care plans, Kaiser Permanente, allows its members to get a COVID-19 test without cost. For example, testing is covered whether done on-site at a Kaiser facility or by submitting a reimbursement claim if you get tested elsewhere.

Meanwhile, community-based testing sites, such as health centers and select pharmacies, can provide low or no-cost testing to everyone, even the uninsured. In addition, these sites may offer either PCR or rapid antigen tests or both.

Tests for return to the United States

Regardless of your vaccination status, the U.S. requires that you take a COVID-19 test — either a PCR test or a rapid antigen test— within one day of anticipated arrival into the country.

Nerdy tip: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control website specifies that tests must be taken within a one-day period instead of 24 hours. This allows for a more significant time window, especially when traveling in multiple time zones.

Getting tested while overseas may be covered by your insurance plan, but you’ll want to read your policy documents carefully.

For example, at Blue Cross Blue Shield, nearly all health plans cover testing when done domestically. However, your plan may only cover reimbursement when traveling abroad if your COVID-19 test is medically necessary (if you experienced symptoms or fell ill with COVID-19).

Although your insurance plan may not cover the costs of testing abroad, it’s still possible to be reimbursed for your test to return to the U.S.

Tips for getting your COVID tests covered

Paying out-of-pocket for COVID-19 tests can be expensive, especially if you need the results returned within a short amount of time. However, even if your health insurance won't cover specific tests, there are still ways to ensure coverage.

Use a proctored at-home test

As of Jan. 15, 2022, health insurance companies must cover the cost of at-home COVID-19 tests. In addition, to be eligible, tests must have an emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. Presently, there are 50 different options from which to choose, most of which feature antigen testing.

Most self-taken antigen tests aren’t eligible for any travel-related testing; however, one kit — the BinaxNow COVID-19 Ag Card Home Test provided by Abbott — includes a proctored examination. Testing will be done over a video call with a specialist for this exam. In this case, your test results could become valid for travel use.

Perhaps the best part about this testing option is that you can acquire these testing kits while in the U.S., travel with them and administer the test just before returning home.

Note that there is a limit of eight free at-home tests per month per person.

See if you have credit card points to use

If you’re worried about the return time of the tests offered by your healthcare provider, you may instead want to opt for a faster option. The cost of testing varies widely, as does the time it takes to get results. For example, at Los Angeles International Airport, you can take a rapid PCR test and get results within 90 minutes. The cost for this service is $199.

Although this likely won’t qualify as a travel expense covered by a credit card’s travel credit , you may still be able to redeem points to cover this test.

Certain credit cards, such as the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card , allow you to redeem your miles at a rate of 1 cent per point for any purchases. In this case, you could redeem $199 worth of points to completely wipe out the cost of your COVID-19 test.

Find a free clinic

Some clinics may offer you no-cost COVID-19 tests, even with private healthcare insurance. For example, CVS Pharmacy’s Minute Clinic provides free rapid antigen and PCR COVID-19 tests. Results for these tests will generally be returned within one to two days.

This isn’t available at all CVS stores, so you’ll need to enter your information into the CVS website to identify suitable locations. You can still take a test at community sites without paying out of pocket, even with insurance. Check to make sure your travel destination accepts the type of test you’re taking as valid.

If you want your COVID test reimbursed

The U.S. has evolved a lot when it comes to COVID-19 testing. Although not all health plans will cover all costs of COVID-19 testing, there are many workarounds when it comes to getting reimbursed. Depending on your insurance, you may be able to schedule cost-free testing at your healthcare facility. You may also be able to file a claim for reimbursement once the test is completed.

Although there are fewer options for reimbursement of overseas tests, you’ll want to carefully review your plan policy to see if you’re personally covered. Otherwise, those looking to return to the U.S. can take advantage of recent legislation covering at-home COVID-19 tests to acquire antigen tests for free, with proctored ones being viable for re-entry into the country.

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