at home covid test

Government Kits, Insurance Plans and More: How You Can Get Free At-Home COVID Tests and Where

Here's what we know.

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At-home COVID-19 tests have been in high demand since before the holidays, but now there are increasing ways to get them for free.

Previously the tests were available at many pharmacies like Walgreens and Walmart with an average test costing around $25.

But earlier this month, the Biden administration announced private insurers must cover the cost of up to eight at-home COVID-19 tests per month. Then, the White House launched a website and now a hotline offering free at-home test kits for households across the country.

Still, certain restrictions apply and there have been several questions surrounding the moves.

Here's what you should know.

How do I get a free, at-home COVID test?

The new federal website, covidtests.gov, to request free test kits launched Tuesday, with the first shipments going out to Americans by the end of the month.

"The tests will be completely free—there are no shipping costs and you don’t need to enter a credit card number," the website states.

The White House says “tests will typically ship within 7-12 days of ordering” through the U.S. Postal Service. USPS reports shipping times of 1-3 days for its first-class package service in the continental United States. Shipments to Alaska, Hawaii, Army Post Office (APO), Fleet Post Office (FPO) and Diplomatic Post Office (DPO) addresses will be sent through Priority Mail.

Importantly, given the shipping and process times, Americans will need to request the tests well before they meet federal guidelines for requiring a test.

The Biden administration is also launching a phone line Friday for people to order free COVID-19 tests, a senior White House policy adviser said, expanding availability to people who may not have internet access.

The hotline was scheduled to go live at 7 a.m. CT, and households can call 800-232-0233 to request up to four free tests.

“We’ve just seen the disproportionate impact on certain communities,” Dr. Cameron Webb, who advises President Joe Biden’s COVID response team on equity, said in an interview. “The harder-hit communities have borne the brunt and most difficult aspects of this pandemic.”

The phone line will offer services in English, Spanish and 150 other languages. Orders can be placed from 8 a.m. to midnight seven days a week.

In addition, beginning last weekend, private insurers are required to cover the cost of up to eight at-home rapid tests per month per insured person.

People have the option of buying tests at a store or online, then seeking reimbursement from their health insurance provider. Insurers are being incentivized to work with pharmacies and retailers to develop plans to cover the cost of the tests with no out-of-pocket cost to customers, but those programs will not be immediately widespread.

Those with public health insurance through Medicare, or without insurance, will be directed to covidtests.gov to order tests or to community health centers in their area offering free testing.

How many tests can I get?

The White House says that “to promote broad access," shipments from covidtests.gov will initially be limited to four rapid tests per residential address, no matter the number of occupants.

Under the insurance plan, you're entitled to up to eight over-the-counter at-home tests per month, which must be fully reimbursed by your insurance company, with no deductibles or cost-sharing. Packages that include multiple tests will be considered a single test for the purpose of reimbursement.

Additionally, test kit costs are covered if they're part of a clinical assessment by a health-care provider. That means you get eight free tests month, plus whatever number of tests a doctor asks you to take.

How can I make sure I get reimbursed?

The Biden administration says the procedures for reimbursement will differ from insurer to insurer, and it is encouraging Americans to save receipts from rapid test purchases and to reach out to their insurance providers for information.

The requirement only covers purchases on or after Jan. 15. Insurers are not expected to retroactively reimburse the cost of tests purchased earlier.

What if I don't have insurance? What if I have Medicaid or Medicare?

Those with public health insurance through Medicare, or without insurance, will be directed to covidtests.gov to order tests or to community health centers in their area offering free testing.

The White House said it's doubling the amount of free tests it distributes across community centers to 50 million, from 25 million.

You should be able to find one of these centers at your state or local health agency's website.

Are there different at-home tests? Which one can I get, and where can I get one?

Experts expect that most at-home tests available at pharmacies will be included under the insurance reimbursement policy, but as for the government site, people will not be able to choose which brand of at-home tests they receive.

According to the site, "all tests distributed as part of this program are FDA-authorized at-home rapid antigen tests."

Testing kits are available at drugstores without a prescription, and a box with two tests typically costs about $25. Swabs, testing solution and instructions are included.

Adults and teens can test themselves. An adult can test a child as young as 2.

Most tests require swabbing about a half inch inside both nostrils, so it may tickle but doesn't hurt. Tests generate a positive result if a viral protein is detected in your sample.

Are there other testing options?

The Biden administration is emphasizing that the website is just one tool for Americans to access COVID-19 testing. Millions of free tests are available at participating pharmacy locations, community health centers and Federal Emergency Management Agency-backed sites in some parts of the country experiencing a surge in cases.

What's the difference between at-home tests and home collection tests?

Home collection tests involve taking a sample from your home and then sending it to a lab for results.

At-home tests allow for results from a sample and results are available within minutes.

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