As more employers turn to COVID-19 testing to see if employees are safe to return to the workplace, the Trump administration has clarified that insurers must cover only physician-ordered “medically necessary” diagnostic and antibody tests, AIS Health reported.

The guidance, released jointly on June 23 by HHS, the Dept. of Labor and the Dept. of the Treasury, also says self-funded employer plans must pay for COVID-19 testing that’s medically appropriate.

“Testing conducted to screen for general workplace health and safety (such as employee ‘return to work’ programs), for public health surveillance for SARS-CoV-2, or for any other purpose not primarily intended for individualized diagnosis or treatment of COVID-19 or another health condition is beyond the scope” of the requirements embedded in the legislation approved by Congress earlier this year that requires insurers to pay for COVID-19 testing, the FAQ document said.

“I think now that [the insurers] have had this clarification, they’re going to use that as part of their determination of coverage,” Ashraf Shehata, KPMG national sector leader for health care and life sciences, tells AIS Health.

Richard Hughes IV, managing director at Avalere Health, says that it’s possible to argue that Congress intended insurers to cover all tests for their members, regardless of whether a physician ordered them, whether the person was symptomatic, or whether the test was needed to return to work.

However, Hughes says it’s also possible to argue that Congress gave CMS the authority to implement these testing requirements with some restrictions. “There could be tremendous variability across payers’ approaches to coverage policy and how they process claims,” he says.

In fact, many insurers already have moved to limit testing coverage in some ways, although their policies are fluid and have been updated frequently, says Danielle Showalter, principal at Avalere.

Individuals whose plans will not cover a test can turn to what Shehata calls the “retail model,” which is direct-to-consumer COVID-19 testing sites that don’t require a health care provider’s permission. Costs vary for this type of testing, which generally wouldn’t be covered by insurance unless the person is symptomatic.