Home COVID tests are now available at no cost to most Americans, as part of the Biden administration’s effort to increase testing around the United States.
Folks can buy home tests online or in stores and be fully reimbursed by their private insurance, without any copays or deductibles.
The White House also plans to distribute 1 billion free home tests itself, and will begin taking orders on Wednesday.
Here’s how all this works:
Do I need a prescription?
No, you can get free COVID tests without talking to your doctor.
How do I use insurance to get a test?
If you’ve got private insurance, you’ll either have your test paid for at the time of purchase or you can file a claim with your insurer.
Your insurance company has the option of choosing preferred stores, pharmacies and online shops where you can get your test at no cost up front, so you should check with your insurer before shopping. You can buy tests outside network, but in that case, insurers are only required to reimburse up to $12 per test. (Two-to-a-pack tests like BinaxNow are available for around $24 at pharmacies and stores, and about $20 at Walmart.)
How many tests do I get?
Insurance companies have to pay for up to eight tests a month for every covered person in your household.
Can I get reimbursed for tests I bought a couple weeks back?
You can only get reimbursed for COVID tests purchased Jan. 15 and after, the date the Biden administration’s program commenced.
Where can I find a test in my community?
Rapid COVID tests are sold over the counter at pharmacies, big-box stores like Walmart and Target and online retailers like Amazon.
However, as many consumers have found out, the Omicron surge is causing spot shortages of the tests. “It’s not always available at every pharmacy that you go in and want to buy it,” said Dr. William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases
Before running out to the pharmacy, you might want to first call your doctor’s office or community health center to see if they have any rapid tests on hand, suggested Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive officer for the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
“If you are a patient at a community health center or a rural health center, your best bet is going to be to contact your provider, and those tests should be available at those centers,” Freeman said.
How do I get one of the free COVID tests from the federal government?
Starting Wednesday, you can go to covidtests.gov to order free tests. The White House also plans to open up a phone line but no launch date has been announced. The website says there will be no shipping costs, and people won’t need to provide a credit card number to file an order.
There’s a limit of four tests per household. The tests are expected to ship within seven to 12 days of your order.
The U.S. Postal Service plans to use up to 7,000 temporary workers to ship the test kits, many of them holiday workers being held over for the new project, Reuters reports. Still, demand may have peaked by the time tests are delivered.
What if I’m on Medicare or Medicaid?
Traditional Medicare is not currently paying for over-the-counter home COVID tests except at community health centers. However, it does cover COVID testing performed in a lab, if your doctor orders the test. Folks with a Medicare Advantage plan should see if their private insurer will cover the cost of a home test.
Medicaid already covers home tests at no cost, as does the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Check with your state for more information.
What if I don’t have health insurance?
Uninsured folks might be able to get free home tests from their community or rural health center, Freeman said. The Department of Health and Human Services is providing up to 50 million free tests to health centers and Medicare-certified health clinics, CNN reports.
You also should check with your local health department, to see if test kits are being handed out elsewhere in your community. For example, “there are libraries, at least in my area, that have been distributing free tests as well,” Freeman noted.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about COVID-19 tests.