The White House announced that it will stop sending out free at-home COVID testing kits on Friday, Sept. 2 due to a lack of funding.
Since January 2022, every household in the United States has been able to place three orders for a total of 16 test kits, regardless of their insurance status. The 600 million tests that were distributed boosted access to testing, and according to research on free at-home test programs, likely helped slow the spread of COVID to an extent.
Free and affordable COVID tests are still out there, but people will have to get a little more resourceful in order to get ahold of them. Here’s where and how:
Private health insurance covers eight tests a month.
The federal government is still requiring private insurance companies to cover up to eight tests a month per person who is insured. David M. Souleles, the director of the COVID-19 Response Team at the University of California, Irvine, said health insurance and managed care plans are handling this differently, so you’ll want to check in with your provider to figure out how you can get reimbursed.
Some insurance providers require you to submit a receipt for the tests, whereas others have relationships with local pharmacies that can run your insurance at the cashier so you don’t have to pay anything upfront.
“It really varies, so people should really check with their health insurance provider about the best option for accessing those covered tests,” Souleles said.
Medicare and Medicaid also cover eight tests a month.
Medicare and Medicaid similarly cover up to eight over-the-counter tests each month. Simply bring your red, white or blue Medicare card to a pharmacy and the pharmacy will bill Medicare for your kits.
Here is a list of the pharmacies participating in Medicare’s over-the-counter tests initiative (though you should also ask your local pharmacy if they are participating even if they’re not on the list).
Medicare isn’t covering OTC test kits for people who only have Medicare Part A (hospital insurance). If you have any questions about your coverage, you can call Medicare at 1-800-Medicare and TTY users can contact the program at 1-877-486-2048.
“Again people should check, if they’re covered by Medicare or Medicaid, with their providers about the best way to access those tests,” Souleles said.
Community-based sites are offering free testing.
There are over 1,500 community-based locations across the country that offer free or low-cost testing to everyone in the U.S., including those who are uninsured. These sites, which you can locate here, include local pharmacies, health clinics, community health centers and churches that provide no or low-cost testing.
Your local health department will know about local testing options.
You can contact your local health department for more details about where, when and how you can get tested. Resources vary from place to place, and what’s available in one county will be different from what’s available in another.
In California, a program called OptumServe is offering free testing to uninsured and underinsured people along with undocumented individuals, people experiencing homelessness and those who are at high-risk and need COVID medications. Many other states, or local health departments, may have similar testing programs set up.
“One of the things I would really recommend for folks, if they don’t have health insurance and they’re not on Medicare or Medicaid, is to check with their local health department about what testing options and resources may be available in their community,” Souleles said.
Check with your primary care doctor.
Another good place to start your search for a test is your primary care physician, said Dr. David O’Gurek, interim chair and associate professor of family and community medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University.
Primary care physicians are typically tapped into local resources and will have reliable information on some of the local free testing programs. They’ll also be able to test you and help you navigate the hoops of being reimbursed for tests and treatments by your health insurance provider.
“Usually, I start with the primary care office because they’re aware of that, and from a community health perspective, are tapped into what resources are available in the local community,” O’Gurek said.
It’s probably worth stocking up on a few test kits.
Souleles said he always tells people to take advantage of the testing that’s accessible to them.
“If you can get eight tests a month, get eight tests a month and have them available,” he said. When you need an at-home COVID test, you typically need a handful, since it can take a few days of testing to produce a positive test result. Some people may also go through a bunch of tests when trying to determine if they’re no longer positive after being sick.
How many tests you should keep in your closet really depends on your situation, O’Gurek said. For example, people who live alone will likely need fewer tests than those who live in a multi-person household. In addition, people who live in rural areas that lack testing may benefit from having a few more tests handy.
“I do think each person just needs to be thoughtful about their own situation and circumstances and have tests on hand and available to them,” O’Gurek said.
Keep in mind that all of the tests have expiration dates, however, if you’re past your kit’s expiry date, don’t toss it. The federal government has been extending expiration dates by about three to six months as we’ve learned that many of the test kits work well past the original shelf life listed. You can check the Food and Drug Administration’s website to see if your kit’s shelf life has been extended.
Though the federal government’s free OTC test program is ending, there will still be ways to get ahold of some free or cheap tests — it just might take a bit of digging.
“People should just be aggressive and check in with all of their local resources — health departments, community clinics — to try and identify those tests and get them so that they have them available when they need them,” Souleles said.
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