Personal Finance

Everything you need to know about the new, free at-home Covid tests

Key Points
  • Those with private insurance can order the tests online or at their local pharmacy.
  • In addition, all Americans should soon be able to get a Covid test delivered to their home at no cost.
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During these hard times, at least one thing should should soon get easier: Getting tested for Covid-19.

Starting Saturday, many people will be able to get free at-home tests, thanks to a new initiative by the Biden Administration.

Here's what you need to know.

Who can get the free tests?

The 150 million Americans who have private health insurance are eligible.

Medicare is not included in the program, but those who have Medicare Advantage may be covered and should check with their plan for more details. Medicaid offers some reimbursement; enrollees should contact their state program for additional guidance.

Short-term or health-care sharing plans typically don't have to participate, said Sabrina Corlette, co-director of the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy.

How does it work?

If you have private health insurance, you should be eligible for reimbursement after you buy an at-home Covid test. That includes people insured by their employer, as well as those who've bought a plan on the Affordable Care Act's marketplace, said Lindsey Dawson, an associate director at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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The Biden administration is also encouraging insurers to let those they cover buy the tests with no upfront costs, and then have the retailer or medical facility bill them, but it remains to be seen how many do this and when they'll make that option available.

Keep in mind at-home Covid tests are also an eligible expense for flexible savings accounts and health savings accounts.

Can I get any test?

Starting Jan. 15, most at-home Covid tests you can buy online or at a pharmacy will be covered under the policy, as long as it's approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Your insurer may recommend a network of preferred providers at which you can get a test without having to front the cost, but you can buy one anywhere and seek reimbursement afterwards, Dawson said.

So how reliable are at-home Covid tests at detecting omicron?
So how reliable are at-home Covid tests at detecting omicron?

Here's one less-than-ideal part: Your insurance company may only be required to reimburse you at a rate of up to $12 per individual test.

Most tests are more expensive than that.

In a recent experiment on the pricing of at-home Covid tests, Dawson looked up the costs of the products more than 480 times. On just seven of those occasions did she find a test cheaper than $12.

"An individual might have to spend some time looking for a test in that price range," Dawson said.

Ask your insurer if they're enforcing a $12 cap, Dawson said. If so, you could still be on the hook for any additional cost.

Is there a limit to how many tests I can purchase?

You should be allowed to buy at least eight tests a month under the policy. A family of four would be entitled to 32 tests a month.

How do I make sure I get reimbursed by my insurer?

It will be crucial that you keep your receipt after purchasing an at-home Covid test, said Caitlin Donovan, a spokesperson for the Patient Advocate Foundation

"Your normal receipt should be fine — I've even printed out receipts from Amazon — and then you would have to send it in," said Donovan.

You insurer will likely have a reimbursement form they want you to fill out, she said. Then you'll either mail the paperwork to them, or submit it online.

To send in a more straightforward receipt, Donovan recommends asking the cashier to ring the tests up separately from additional purchases.

What if I don't have private health insurance?

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The federal government will be providing up to 50 million free, at-home tests to community centers and Medicare-certified health clinics. You should be able to find one of these centers at your state or local health agency's website.

What's more, the Biden administration has purchased more than 500 million over-the-counter tests that will soon be available to all Americans by home-delivery that they can request on a website. Stay tuned for more details.

When should I use an at-home test?

Dawson cited some of the most common circumstances in which people may want to test themselves for the virus: They've come into contact with someone diagnosed with Covid, they're displaying symptoms of the virus or they're expected to attend a high-risk event, such as a big family gathering or one in which someone immunocompromised will be present.