How to get free at-home covid tests in the US

No matter how strongly we might collectively feel “over covid,” the virus doesn’t appear to be over us yet. Data from Europe show record cases in the Netherlands and Germany, which is recording more than 1,500 new cases per100,000 people daily. The country’s health minister is calling the situation “critical.”

In the US, protective measures are being dropped though there are still more than 50,000 new cases every week nationwide. Should another surge reach the US as it did Germany, Americans might once again face test shortages.

The current White House emergency declaration ends on April 16, and with it some of the benefits it provides, including some free testing. The emergency period might very well be extended (as it’s been several times since the beginning of the pandemic), but this is the time to prepare in case it doesn’t.

Get free rapid at-home covid-19 tests from the government

Tests are more easily available in pharmacies than they were during the omicron surge, but they are still pricey, at $12 or more each. In January, after persistent public pressure, the White House introduced a program to deliver four free at-home rapid test to every American home, then president Joe Biden announced the addition of four more for those who had already ordered the first set.

While it’s not that many tests, especially considering that families with multiple children aren’t entitled to more tests than single individuals, they are free and easy to get online (here or here). It’s not possible to place an order for all eight tests at once, only two separate orders of four tests.

Get free tests through your insurance

All insured individuals are entitled to eight free at-home covid-19 tests per month at least through April 16. This allows larger insured families to have access to more tests — for instance, a family of five insured individuals (including dependents) would get up to 40 free tests a month.

But despite government encouragement, insurance companies aren’t making it easy to get free tests.

A few, including Aetna, Humana, and United Health Group, allow customers to order up to eight tests at a time and pick them up free of costs at preferred pharmacies. Although not as easy as walking into any pharmacy and getting free tests through insurance, this option is the fastest that doesn’t require out-of-pocket spending.

Other insurers, such as Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, allow patients to order free tests from their sites, in limited quantities. The tests are theoretically only available to people who have symptoms or are at risk of exposure, but take up to two business day to arrive, which makes them useless for emergencies, so it’s better to have them ready.

Finally, the insured can pay for up to eight tests a month for $12 or under each, then submit the receipts for reimbursement (requirements vary according to the insurance). This is the fastest way to have a few tests available at home quickly, but the reimbursement process can take a few weeks.

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