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Military Health System

Answering Your Questions About COVID-19 Testing

Image of Military personnel performing a COVID-19 Test. Corporal Jovan Pabon Centelles from Joint Task Force - Puerto Rico performs a COVID-19 test to Specialist Keyleen rentas at Bayamon Regional Hospital, Puerto Rico, Jan. 19, 2022. JTF-PR and the Department of Health of Puerto Rico assembled a health care site to provide medical treatment and COVID-19 testing to ensure the citizens' health and safety. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Carlos Chabert)

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COVID-19 continues to spread, now as the Omicron variant. Getting vaccinated is the most effective way to protect you and your family from getting seriously ill, getting hospitalized, or dying. You should also make sure you're up to date with your vaccines. Testing is another important step you can take to protect yourself and others.

"Testing is critically important to help reduce the spread of COVID-19," said Dr. Kenneth Yale, interim director of the TRICARE Health Plan. "If you've been exposed to a person with COVID-19 or are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, you should get tested. We encourage TRICARE families to follow currently approved TRICARE requirements for coverage of COVID-19 testing at TRICARE.mil to ensure your test is covered."

Check out the below Q&As for guidance on COVID-19 testing and how TRICARE covers tests.

Q: Can I pick up free at-home COVID-19 tests at a military hospital or clinic?

A: Most military hospitals and clinics are distributing at-home COVID-19 rapid antigen tests to eligible TRICARE beneficiaries. However, check on their availability at your local military hospital or clinic. Your military hospital or clinic can give you up to 8 tests every 30 days. To receive a test, you must visit your military hospital or clinic in person, and be sure to bring your Uniformed Services ID card. Each person who needs a COVID-19 at-home test must visit the distribution site in person. This means one member of the family can’t pick up at-home tests for everyone in their household.

Q: How does TRICARE cover COVID-19 tests administered by a provider?

A: TRICARE will cover your COVID- 19 test and waive the cost of the office visit if a TRICARE-authorized provider or a provider at a military hospital or clinic deems your test medically necessary. The provider can decide you need a test based on your symptoms, exposure risk, and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

To find a TRICARE-authorized provider who can perform a COVID-19 test, use the Find a Doctor tool. You can also reach out to your local military hospital or clinic directly regarding the availability of COVID-19 testing.

Q: Does TRICARE cover COVID-19 at-home tests?

A: TRICARE covers the cost of COVID-19 at-home tests that are both approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) (which includes tests approved under Emergency Use Authorization) and ordered by a TRICARE-authorized provider for a medically necessary purpose. For example, you're showing COVID-19 symptoms or have known or suspected close contact with a known infected person.

At this time, TRICARE doesn't have authorization to reimburse COVID-19 at-home tests outside of this guideline. These tests are also referred to as self-tests or over-the-counter tests. This means if you buy an at-home test for any reason at retailers or pharmacies without a health care provider's authorization, TRICARE won't cover the cost of the test. However, you have multiple options to obtain free at-home antigen rapid diagnostic tests, as well as other tests like polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, through federal and local government entities.

Q: What are other options for getting a free COVID-19 at-home test?

A: As of Jan. 19, you can order free at-home tests through the federal government at COVIDTests.gov. Every home in the U.S. is eligible to order four at-⁠home COVID-⁠19 tests. Order your free tests now so you have them when you need them. Here's when you should take an at-home test:

  • If you begin having COVID-19 symptoms (for example, fever, sore throat, runny nose, or loss of taste or smell)
  • If you come into close contact with someone who has COVID-19 (test at least five days after exposure)

Keep in mind, TRICARE will only cover your test if a TRICARE-authorized provider deems the test is medically necessary. If you test positive or negative on your at-home test, follow CDC's guidance for self-testing. And be sure to report positive test results to your provider. This free federal government initiative is just one way for you to get at-home tests. Go to COVIDTests.gov to learn about other resources.

Q: Who should get tested for COVID-19?

A: The CDC recommends that you test for COVID-19 if you have COVID-19 symptoms. Symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus and anyone can have mild to severe symptoms of COVID-19. If you come into close contact with someone who has COVID-19, you should also get tested to check for infection. You should test at least five days after you've had close contact with someone with the virus. Check the CDC website for further guidance on who should get a test and who doesn't need a test.

Keep in mind, whether you test positive or negative for COVID-19, you should take steps to protect yourself and others. And follow CDC's recommendations.

Q: What if my job or my child's school requires a COVID-19 test?

A: TRICARE will only cover tests that are medically necessary as determined by a TRICARE-authorized provider. This means TRICARE doesn't cover tests that you may need to return to work, school, travel, or for other similar reasons. You should check with your employer, local or state public health authorities, or other party that's requiring the test for guidance and possible coverage or reimbursement if there's a cost. You can also reach out to your TRICARE contractor if you have questions about testing coverage.

For more on COVID-19 testing and getting care, review guidance on the TRICARE website and CDC website. Remember, get up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines by finding a vaccine or a booster near you. By taking the proper precautions, you can help keep you and others safe.

At the time of posting, this information is current. This article was originally published on Feb. 2, 2022, and was later updated with new information on at-home COVID-19 tests available at military hospitals and clinics. Visit www.cdc.gov or TRICARE COVID Guidance for the most current COVID-19 information.

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Last Updated: January 31, 2023
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