How to Get a Free At-Home COVID-19 Test

Rapid COVID-19 test.

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Key Takeaways

  • The Biden administration announced that Americans with health insurance can get their at-home COVID-19 tests reimbursed.
  • The policy will also provide 50 million free tests to community health clinics and rural health centers for Americans without insurance.
  • More details regarding the policy are expected to be released in January next year.

In response to the emergence of the new Omicron variant, the Biden administration intends to make rapid, over-the-counter COVID-19 tests more affordable to Americans. 

Individuals who purchase at-home test kits will soon be able to get them reimbursed by their private health plan or insurance. Millions of tests will also be distributed through key community sites to reach populations that are not covered by private insurance.

The plan is part of a set of public health strategies that will be implemented by the administration to better control the spread of COVID-19. However, the reimbursement strategy does not eliminate all the cost barriers associated at-home tests.

How Will The Reimbursement Strategy Be Implemented?

Federal health agencies are expected to issue guidance by January next year to outline the coverage of the reimbursement policy.

“The plan for implementation appears to be that Americans will have to purchase tests and then submit receipts to their health plan for reimbursement,” Minakshi Raj, PhD, assistant professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, told Verywell. “At-home testing certainly promotes some flexibility, and it is a step in the right direction to be thinking about increasing ease of access to testing.”

Although making private insurance companies cover the cost of at-home COVID-19 tests increases testing capacity, the plan does not come without hitches. Requiring Americans to pay upfront and buy the tests, save the receipts, and submit reimbursement claims to healthcare providers is not as easy as it seems.

Because guidelines of the reimbursement policy haven’t been released yet, it raises plenty of questions, Raj said, which include the following:

  • Will people need to submit a letter from an employer or doctor in order to be reimbursed for the test?
  • What are the long-term implications for premiums and the cost of enrolling in health plans? 
  • Will the time and effort associated with submitting receipts and waiting for reimbursement be considered?
  • Is there a limited number of tests that people can be reimbursed for?
  • How will uninsured Americans get access to free at-home COVID-19 testing?

“It is also unclear how long it will take for health plans to process all of this information, which means people will be spending money out of pocket on testing with an unpredictable window of time within which they will be reimbursed,” Raj said.

What This Means For You

The guidelines of the reimbursement plan are yet to be sorted out, which may be announced early next year. At the moment, low or no-cost COVID-19 tests are available at select health centers and pharmacies nationwide. You can check for the testing information per state here.

What About Americans Without Health Insurance?

The new policy will also provide 50 million free tests to community health clinics and rural healthcare centers, doubling the proposed 25 million by President Joe Biden in September for those without private coverage.

“Uninsured people will be able to access free at-home tests distributed through community health centers in underserved areas,” Jay W. Lee, MD, MPH, family physician and chief medical officer of Share Our Selves Community Health Center, told Verywell. “For uninsured individuals, the cost may be a significant barrier, so making these rapid at-home tests more easily available will be key to keeping the case rate low for a population that has carried an inordinate burden of cases throughout the pandemic.”

The cost of COVID-19 tests is one of the biggest barriers to widespread testing, which is crucial in controlling the spread of the virus.

“Many patients who receive care at community health centers are essential workers and hourly employees who are critical members of our workforce,” Lee said. “This approach will help reduce any potential gaps in equity between those who have and those who do not have insurance with regard to COVID-19 testing. As a family physician who works at a community health center, I'm grateful that health equity is being considered.”

The Plan Won't Eliminate All Barriers

Many experts say that distributing tests to the public at low or no cost can make them even more accessible for everyone, with fewer steps required.

“Other nations have purchased at-home tests then distributed the kits directly to the public at low or no cost,” Lee said. “That approach would have significantly reduced the hassle factor for patients. A reimbursement model doesn’t necessarily eliminate cost barriers because of the hassle factor.” 

Aside from implementing the policy, the administration will also have to effectively disseminate the information regarding the reimbursement plan. For instance, the COVID-19 vaccines have always been free, but their perceived cost has prevented some Americans from seeking vaccination.

“Patients should be prepared, and talk to their family physician if they have questions about receiving a free testing kit or how to apply for reimbursement,” Lee said. “It might have been prudent to have considered leveraging America's primary care offices, where most people receive and trust their care, as a place to distribute these kits.”

The new policy does remove barriers to at-home COVID testing to an extent because some Americans will eventually be reimbursed for the money they spent on testing, making it easier for people to test more often, Raj said. However, without a clear guideline on how the policy will be implemented, it is unclear whether the plan will successfully eliminate all cost barriers.

“If people have to wait several months to get their reimbursement and are counting on that money for supporting themselves and their families, then the cost barrier hasn't really been eliminated,” she added. “We might continue to see inequities in access to these tests, and therefore, in rates of testing.”

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.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The White House. President Biden Announces New Actions to Protect Americans Against the Delta and Omicron Variants as We Battle COVID-⁠19 this Winter.

  2. Kaiser Family Foundation. KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor: April 2021.

By Carla Delgado
Carla M. Delgado is a health and culture writer based in the Philippines.