The U.S. government will cover the costs of regular coronavirus testing for unvaccinated federal workers, one component of the Biden administration’s new vaccination requirements.

President Biden announced new rules Thursday that amount to a two-tier system for the country’s four million federal employees. Those who do not get vaccinated against coronavirus will have to social distance, wear face coverings and face limits on official travel. Those who do get vaccinated will not fall under such requirements.

Unvaccinated workers will also need to be regularly tested for the virus. Each federal agency will come up with a plan for testing its unvaccinated work force, Karine Jean-Pierre, the deputy White House press secretary. The costs and procedures for testing will depend on how many unvaccinated individuals there are at each agency.

“The agencies are going to be implementing this program themselves so they’ll be in charge of how that moves forward,” she said.

The federal decision to cover coronavirus testing for unvaccinated workers could set a benchmark for state governments and companies now grappling with the same issue.

New York and California rolled out similar testing requirements for unvaccinated state workers this week, but neither has specified who will pay for the service. Some companies and universities have already announced that unvaccinated workers themselves will have to pay for their own tests.

Many states and cities still have free coronavirus testing sites that they started earlier in the pandemic. But many Americans also get tested at doctor offices and pharmacies, which will typically bill patients and their insurance for the service.

Federal law requires insurers to fully cover coronavirus tests ordered by health care providers, meaning the doctor cannot apply a deductible or co-payment to the service. Routine workplace testing, however, is exempt from that requirement and it is legal to charge patients for that service.

Some patients have faced surprise medical bills for coronavirus tests, which can range from a few dollars to over $1,000.

“A number of employers, particularly large ones, may just offer on-site testing to unvaccinated workers,” said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms. “But they don’t have to. They can require employees to pick up the tab.”

Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.

By Reuters

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