How to Get Free At-Home COVID-19 Tests

President Biden announced last Thursday that private health insurance plans will soon reimburse Americans who buy over-the-counter, at-home rapid COVID-19 tests.  This effort to stave off a rise of infections this winter comes as the omicron variant is spreading quickly across the country.  

According to CNBC, 50 million free tests will also be available at community centers for individuals who do not have insurance. Until recently, the U.S. has not made at-home testing a priority as it is in other countries, says The New York Times, but that has now changed as the White House prepares for a new mitigation plan requiring insurers to cover the cost of convenient, at-home tests.

In Britain, pharmacies offer free packs of seven tests and in Germany most rapid tests are also free of charge. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been slow in approving rapid tests, so until recently they have been difficult to obtain, according to research.

“Rapid tests can help reduce worries about gathering with loved ones for the holidays,” epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo told the Times. The rapid antigen tests spot infections and are a powerful public health tool.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, said that at-home COVID-19 tests are “one of the best tools we have” to stay safe during the pandemic. Gupta points out that even fully vaccinated people may carry the virus so taking a rapid antigen test before gathering with friends or family can tell you if you are contagious.

While the exact details of the new White House policy are still sketchy, according to CNBC, about 150 million Americans who have private health insurance will be eligible for full reimbursement after they buy an at-home COVID-19 test, which costs between $15 and $40. This includes people who are insured by their employer or who have a plan under the Affordable Care Act’s Marketplace.

So far, those on Medicaid or Medicare are not eligible for reimbursement, but these individuals, along with people who do not have insurance, may obtain free COVID-19 tests at community centers across the country. You should be able to find one of these centers at your state or local health agency’s website, says NBC Chicago.

To get reimbursed, experts suggest contacting your insurance company and asking for instructions. In most cases, your printed receipt should be enough documentation for payment. Generally, at-home tests are available at pharmacies and should be included in the government plan. The Biden administration has promised more guidance by mid-January, says NBC Chicago.

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