Where to Find Affordable COVID Tests After the Free Kits Are Gone

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Key Takeaways

  • The federal program allowing people to order free COVID rapid tests from the government will end on September 2 due to lack of Congressional funding.
  • For now, insurance providers must cover up to eight free tests per plan member per month.
  • Even without health insurance, there are still several ways to find free or low-cost COVID tests.

As of Friday, September 2, the White House will be suspending its free COVID-19 test kit program.

Launched in January, the program ships up to 16 free rapid tests to households who order the tests online or by phone. The White House is pausing the initiative because Congress hasn’t provided the funding necessary to replenish America’s stockpile of tests.

“[This] is an action we’ve been forced to take that will help preserve our limited remaining supply,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during a briefing on Monday. She added the Biden administration hopes to ensure there are still enough test available in the fall, “when we might face a new rise in infections and more acute need.”

Testing for COVID-19 is already down in the United States. Stephen Kissler, PhD, a research fellow in the department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told Verywell that he worries that “reduced availability of free tests will depress testing even more.”

How to Get Free or Low-Cost Tests After September 2

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told Verywell that the free White House program began when rapid home tests were in short supply. Now that they’re more plentiful, pricing has dropped, with options from the $10 range.

If you miss the September 2 White House deadline, there are other free or low-cost COVID-19 testing options:

  • This federal locator identifies testing sites and pharmacies that offer low- or no-cost testing in your state.
  • Libraries and community health centers often stock home test kits available for free, since they are typically funded by state and county governments rather than the federal government.
  • Many pharmacies and community health centers are part of the free federal Test to Treat Paxlovid program launched earlier this year. Tests are free, and if you are considered high-risk for severe COVID, you can get treatment promptly. Find locations near you by using this locator.
  • Vending machines for free PCR tests are available on some college campuses, including American University and the University of California, San Francisco. These tests can be self-administered and placed in a drop box for lab analysis.

If you have health insurance:

  • Bring your health insurance card to a pharmacy or other retailer that sells home test kits, and have it on hand when you buy online. Health insurers must provide eight free tests per plan member (each member of your family who is insured on that plan) per month. Some pharmacies will swipe your card for payment, while others will give you a receipt so you can file for reimbursement. 
  • People on Medicare Part B are eligible for eight free tests each calendar month. Medicare beneficiaries who go to participating pharmacies will not have to pay for the test up front. 
  • You can use a flexible spending account (FSA) or a health savings account (HAS) to pay for COVID-19 tests.
  • Some telehealth companies, such as, sell tests that are reimbursable from your insurance provider. The out-of-pocket costs for tests from eMed are $150 each for a pack of six and $70 each for a pack of two.

Why National Free Testing Matters

The White House free test program has been a boon, especially for people who are uninsured. On average, tests can run as high as $25 per test online and in stores.

Health insurers do pay for tests, but they limit the number to eight per month for each dependent on a health insurance plan. Even that coverage may not be enough now that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises consumers to perform repeat testing following a negative rapid test, regardless of whether or not they have COVID symptoms.

For the most accurate result, the FDA advises up to three tests over six days to determine whether you have COVID-19. Without free tests, costs can add up, especially if several members in a household need to test. 

Will Free Tests Come Back?

While the White House does have millions of tests it can send out for free if cases surge this fall, consumers may soon have to get used to paying for COVID related tests, vaccines, and treatments, especially if Congress ultimately does not provide funding.

“One of the things we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about in the last many month is getting us out of that acute emergency phase where the U.S. government is buying the vaccines, buying the treatments, buying the diagnostic tests,” White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha, MD, MPH, said at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation event. “Some of that is actually going to begin this fall…you’re going to see commercialization of some of these things.”

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.

1 Source
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  1. Food and Drug Administration. At-home COVID-19 antigen tests—take steps to reduce your risk of false negative: FDA safety communication.

By Fran Kritz
Fran Kritz is a freelance healthcare reporter with a focus on consumer health and health policy. She is a former staff writer for Forbes Magazine and U.S. News and World Report.