Everything you need to know about free at-home COVID test kits

Starting Jan. 15, Americans with private health insurance will be able to take a COVID-19 test at home for free or get reimbursed.

Under guidance issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), insurers will be required to cover the cost of COVID-19 rapid tests at home.

“By requiring private health plans to cover people’s home testing, we are further expanding Americans’ ability to get a test for free when they need it,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a release.

A quick home test usually costs between $10 and $30. For example, a two-pack of Abbott’s BinaxNOW test kits sells for $19.88 at Walmart and $23.99 at CVS. If families have frequent testing needs, the new policy could save them hundreds of dollars a month.

Here’s everything we know about the policy so far.

Where can I get free home COVID test kits?

Your health plan should have a network of “preferred” pharmacies or retailers where you can take home tests in stores or online with no up-front cost.

Louise Norris, a health insurance writer for VigorTip, said the new regulations did incentivize insurers to build networks of pharmacies and stores to take the hassle out of filing claims.

“It’s going to make it easier for consumers, and that’s definitely the route I recommend people take,” Norris said. “Call your plan or check their website to see if and where you can get a free test instead of just buying it at any pharmacy and going through the reimbursement process.”

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If you do purchase tests out-of-network, the new policy still requires reimbursement from your health plan. However, in this case, the insurance company is only responsible for paying up to $12 for each individual test. You may need to pay the balance.

Make sure the test kit you purchase is authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or it may not be eligible for reimbursement. Check the FDA website for a list of authorized antigen tests.

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How do I get reimbursed for test kits?

If you prepaid for the test on or after January 15, you may have to go through the regular claim submission and reimbursement process through your health insurance. You may need to complete a claim form with a copy of the receipt. Depending on your carrier, you can file a claim via the website, fax or email.

Norris added that the new policy does not specify a time frame for reimbursement, so it may vary from one insurance company to another.

What if I purchased a test before January 15th?

Insurance companies are not responsible for reimbursement of test kits purchased before January 15. But some states, such as Vermont, require health insurers to process and reimburse claims for test kits purchased on or after Dec. 1, 2021.

Are there restrictions?

Yes. Individuals can purchase up to eight at-home tests per household member per month, for example, a family of four would be eligible for 32 free tests per month.

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What if I don’t have health insurance?

Under the new policy, only people with private insurance will be able to seek expedited home testing reimbursement. The White House is working on a plan to make 500 million free testing kits available to anyone who requests it on the upcoming site, but administration officials have yet to release details about the site and shipping plans.

Several states, including New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts, have been distributing free home tests to residents since the Omicron surge began. Some cities, like Miami and Washington, D.C., are offering free tests in public libraries. Check with your local health center or health department to see if and where you can get free test kits.

What if I have Medicaid or Medicare?

According to HHS, state Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) programs are currently required to cover FDA-authorized home COVID-19 testing, although coverage rules may vary by state.

Medicare is not covered under the new plan. However, when a doctor, non-physician practitioner, pharmacist, or other authorized health care professional orders a test, Medicare pays for lab-provided COVID-19 testing. People with Medicare can get one lab-performed test for free each year, no subscription required.

HHS is working to provide up to 50 million free at-home tests to community health centers and Medicare-certified health clinics for free distribution to patients and community members.

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Can I use my HSA or FSA for a test suite?

Home testing for COVID-19 is a qualifying medical expense that can be paid through your employer and/or your sponsored Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA).

According to the IRS, HSAs are used to pay for qualified medical expenses “only to the extent that those expenses are not covered by insurance or otherwise.”

If you do plan to purchase a test kit with your HSA or FSA on or after January 15, please check with your insurance company first for reimbursement details. You should also keep a copy of your itemized home test receipt for your tax return.

When should I use home testing?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you should get tested if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or if you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

You may also consider doing self-exams before congregating indoors with others to minimize the risk of transmission. This is especially important before gatherings with unvaccinated children, the elderly, or the immunocompromised.

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The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means that you may have updated information as you read this article. For the latest updates on COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus news page.

Correction – January 14, 2022: This article has been updated to clarify HSA/FSA reimbursement.