Everything You Need to Know About Free At-Home COVID Test Kits


Starting January 15, Americans with private health insurance will be able to get at-home COVID-19 tests for free or get reimbursed for the cost.

Insurance companies will be required to cover the costs of rapid at-home COVID tests, according to guidance released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“By requiring private health plans to cover people’s at-home tests, we are further expanding Americans’ ability to get tests for free when they need them,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a press release.

Rapid at-home tests generally cost between $10 and $30. For example, Abbott’s BinaxNOW test kit in a pack of two is selling for $19.88 at Walmart and $23.99 at CVS. The new policy may save families hundreds of dollars every month if they have frequent testing needs.

Here’s everything we know so far about the policy.

Where Can I Get Free At-home COVID Test Kits?

Your health plan should have a network of “preferred” pharmacies or retailers where you can get at-home tests with no upfront costs, either in store or online.

Louise Norris, a health insurance writer at Verywell, said the new regulations do incentivize insurers to set up a network of pharmacies and stores to remove the hassle of claim filing.

“That will make it easier for consumers and is absolutely the route I’d recommend people take,” Norris said. “Call your plan or check their website to see if and where you can just pick up free tests instead of just buying them at any pharmacy and going through the reimbursement process.”

If you did purchase the tests out-of-network, the new policy still requires your health plan to reimburse the costs. In this scenario, however, insurers are only responsible for paying up to $12 per individual test. You may have to pay for the remaining balance.

Make sure the test kit you’re purchasing is authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or it may not be eligible for reimbursement. Check the FDA website for a list of authorized antigen tests.

How Do I Get Reimbursed for the Test Kits?

If you paid for your tests upfront on or after January 15, you may have to go through the regular claim submission and reimbursement procedure with your health insurance. You may have to fill out a claim form attached with a copy of your receipt. Depending on your carrier, you may be able to file the claim on a website, via fax, or email.

The new policy doesn’t specify the timeframe for reimbursement so it may vary from one insurer to another, Norris added.

What If I Bought the Tests Before January 15?

Insurers are not responsible for reimbursing the test kits purchased before January 15. But some states, like Vermont, require health insurance companies to process and reimburse claims for test kits purchased on or after December 1, 2021.

Is There a Limit?

Yes. Individuals can purchase up to eight at-home tests per family member per month, e.g., a family of four would be eligible for 32 free tests a month.

What If I Don’t Have Health Insurance?

Under the new policy, only people who are privately insured can seek rapid at-home test reimbursements. The White House is working on a plan to deliver 500 million free test kits to people who request them on a forthcoming website, but government officials still haven’t released details about the website and shipment plans.

Several states, such as New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts have already been distributing free at-home tests to residents since the Omicron surge began. Some cities, such as Miami and Washington D.C., are making free tests available at public libraries. Check with your local health centers or health department to see if and where you can pick up free test kits.

What If I Have Medicaid or Medicare?

State Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) programs are currently required to cover FDA-authorized at-home COVID-19 tests, according to the HHS, although coverage rules may vary by state.

Medicare is not covered under the new plan. But Medicare pays for COVID-19 tests performed by a laboratory when the test is ordered by a physician, non-physician practitioner, pharmacist, or other authorized healthcare professional. People with Medicare can access one free lab-performed test per year without an order.

The HHS is working to provide up to 50 million free at-home tests to community health centers and Medicare-certified health clinics for distribution at no cost to patients and community members.

Can I Use My HSA or FSA for the Test Kits?

If you want to get the test kits reimbursed, no. A health savings account (HSA) or a flexible spending account (FSA) is strictly for items or services that do not get reimbursed by your health plan. 

“You can always use HSA/FSA funds for things like co-pays, deductibles, coinsurance, or medical expenses that aren’t covered by your health plan,” Norris said. “But if you continue to use an HSA or FSA account to pay for COVID test kits, you wouldn’t be able to submit the expense to your insurer for reimbursement.”

When Should I Use an At-Home Test?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you should get tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms or if you have been potentially exposed to an individual with COVID-19.

You can also consider doing a self-test before gathering indoors with others to minimize the risk of transmission. This is especially important before gathering with unvaccinated children, older individuals, or people who are immunocompromised.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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