Roughly two months after the Omicron variant popped on to the radar of Americans, the Biden administration is finally ready to roll out its latest effort to curb the virus: free at-home rapid tests for any American who wants one.
Announced at the end of 2021, the program is expected to cost roughly $4 billion and comes as demand for at-home tests is at unprecedented highs. Most drugstores and other retailers are unable to keep them in stock, as people try to determine whether they’re suffering from a seasonal cold, the flu, or COVID-19.
Here’s a look at some of the most frequently asked questions about how to find an at-home test.
How do I get free at-home COVID-19 tests?
Officially, all Americans will be able to request four free tests per household at COVIDtests.gov starting on Wednesday, Jan. 19. However, the site is live now and processing orders.
How long will it take to receive the tests?
According to the White House, tests will ship within seven to 12 days of ordering. The U.S. Postal Service will deliver kits using its first-class service in the continental U.S. and priority mail for orders from Alaska, Hawaii, U.S. territories, and military addresses.
How many tests can I order from the government?
Initially, it’s limited to four per household “to promote broad access.” That could change in the months to come as more tests become available.
What if I can’t access the COVIDtests.gov website?
The Biden administration says it also plans to launch a call-in line to help people who are unable to access the website to place orders. Details of that number are still unannounced.
How do I get reimbursed for at-home COVID-19 tests?
Starting on Jan. 15, health insurance companies were required to reimburse members for up to eight at-home tests per person per month. The insurers, however, can dictate certain pharmacies to be in-network, where the cost is covered upfront. Tests purchased out-of-network will see a reimbursement cap of $12, which is well below what most tests cost.
Will Medicare or Medicare pay for an at-home COVID test?
State Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) programs are currently required to cover FDA-authorized at-home COVID-19 tests without cost-sharing. Medicare also pays for diagnostic tests performed by a laboratory, such as PCR and antigen tests, with no beneficiary cost-sharing when the test is ordered by a physician, non-physician practitioner, pharmacist, or other authorized health care professional. Biden’s reimbursement rules do not apply to either agency, though there is an effort underway from test kit producers to change that.
What if I don’t have health insurance?
The Biden administration has said there will be “thousands of locations” to pick up additional free at-home tests, but hasn’t given specific details yet. Uninsured people who want to be tested can use this HHS tool, though, to find a free testing location near them.
Will this program make it harder for me to find a COVID-19 test at drugstores?
It shouldn’t. The White House says the tests it is purchasing are from new manufacturing capacity, which won’t reduce the number going to drugstores and other retail locations.
How many at-home tests has the Biden administration purchased?
The Biden administration says it plans to purchase 1 billion tests—and will have 500 million available on Jan. 19.
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