Home COVID testing is ‘free’ now: Federal testing begins airing Wednesday

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Free government tests will be launched on January 19 via COVIDTests.gov.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Visit the WHO and CDC websites for the most up-to-date news and information on the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. health insurance providers now have to pay for in-home COVID test kits under federal law. Customers can get a refund of up to eight tests per. month per. person or receive them free of charge from participating “in-network” pharmacies. This means that a family of five with health insurance will be able to receive a maximum of 40 free tests per month.

No health insurance? Americans without health insurance may soon receive free COVID tests at home directly from the federal government. As of Wednesday, Americans will be able to request four free home COVID-19 tests per week. household on COVIDTests.gov, with set shipping within seven to 12 days.

“This program will ensure that Americans have at home, rapid COVID-19 testing available in the coming weeks and months – in addition to the number of other ways they can be tested,” the White House said Friday. “The administration is fast completing a contract process for the unprecedented purchase of 1 billion at home, quick tests to distribute as part of this program.”

For more information on COVID-19, get the latest news on best masks for COVID, how to choose right booster shot and how to tell the difference COVID, flu or cold.

How do I get a free COVID-19 test at home?

From Wednesday, Americans will be able to request four free tests per household online at COVIDTests.gov. The US Postal Service will provide kits in the continental United States through the First-Class Package Service. Shipments to Alaska, Hawaii, US territories and any military addresses will be sent via Priority Mail.

According to a White House statement, kits will usually be shipped within seven to 12 days of ordering.

President Biden announced Thursday that the government is doubling the number of free tests available to 1 billion and providing 5 million PCR tests for free to schools a month. Several states have already begun issuing free COVID-19 tests at home to residents, including Colorado, Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, Washington, New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio, Oregon and New Hampshire. Washington, DC, makes home tests available for collection at libraries in the area, while other cities, such as New York and Boston, distribute them to local health clinics. We will continue to update this list as more people start offering free COVID tests.

How to get a refund for COVID-19 test kits at home

From January 15, health insurance companies will be required to reimburse Americans for eight home antigen tests per year. person per month, according to a plan announced by Biden. If a person has been asked to undergo COVID-19 testing by their physician due to underlying health conditions or other factors, there is no limit to the number of tests covered.

Carriers can set up in-net pharmacies where costs will be covered in advance, and cap coverage at out-of-net retailers at $ 12 per. test.

Although the Biden plan is not retroactive, some states – including Vermont – have mandated that insurers start paying for home sets sooner.

You can also check with your employer, as some private companies also started offering reimbursement options for home testing before the January 15 deadline.

Do Medicare and Medicaid providers cover COVID test kits at home?

The bid’s new reimbursement rules for home COVID-19 tests do not currently apply to Medicaid and Medicare, though the Bloomberg government reports that test kit manufacturers are lobbying to change that.

People with Medicare – a free federal program for all Americans age 65 and older – who also have private health insurance can receive reimbursement from their insurance company.

State Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, aka CHIP, programs are currently required to cover FDA-authorized home COVID-19 tests without cost sharing, according to HHS.

What if you do not have health insurance?

For those without insurance, Biden said there will be “thousands of places” where you can pick up free COVID-19 test kits for use at home in private, instead of being washed in a drive-thru clinic.

Those who do not have health insurance can also access free kits at health clinics and other local websites. The Department of Health and Human Services offers a search tool to find community-based test sites for COVID-19.

Where can I buy COVID-19 tests at home?

Fast COVID-19 tests at home are usually available at pharmacies like Walgreens, Walmart and CVS and through online retailers like Amazon. The White House allows insurance companies to establish a list of pharmacies in the network and to limit the coverage of kits purchased from dealers outside the network. Ask your insurance company to see which stores are in your network.

But rapid spread of the omicron variant has led to a shortage of test kits and forced retailers to set limits on how many you can buy in many regions: Walgreens currently allows each customer to purchase a maximum of four home tests, while CVS sets its limit at six. Walmart limits online purchases to eight tests, but has no limit on in-store purchases.

Fast antigen home tests are sold out in stores and online in many regions. A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation in the first week of January found that only 10% of the time at home COVID tests are available online.

From 16 January Walgreens has BinaxNow available for $ 24 for two tests. Walmart has On / Go’s 10-minute self-test available on its website for $ 24 for two tests. Amazon currently has iHealth test in stock for $ 20 for two tests. We will continue to update as availability changes.

If your area’s pharmacy lacks test kits, try your state or local health ministry, as many have started distributing free kits to residents. See the next section for more information and links to the states that currently offer free home covid tests.

How much does COVID-19 testing cost at home?

Fast antigen tests are generally much cheaper than home collection tests. Costs vary from brand to brand, but sets generally run around $ 10 to $ 15 each, with two tests per. set.

Both Walgreens and CVS sell Abbott’s BinaxNow and Quidel’s QuickVue test – two of the first FDA-approved – for $ 24 for a pack of two. Acon’s FlowFlex rapid test currently costs $ 10 for one test at both Walgreens and CVS. The two-quick test on-go set currently sells for $ 25 at Amazon and $ 30 at Walmart.

Home tests that require a nasal swab or saliva sample to be sent to a laboratory for analysis cost much more than the rapid antigen tests and require a much longer waiting time to get results. But the “molecular” tests are considered far more accurate than antigen tests. CVS and Walgreens sell Labcorps Pixel home collection test for $ 125.

The extreme lack of sets has led some to resell them on platforms like Craigslist, eBay, Facebook, Instagram and even TikTok, often at an inflated price and with fraudulent items.

“We have received reports that unauthorized sellers are trying to profit from the pandemic by selling COVID-19 tests online,” said Washington Attorney General Karl Racine tweeted Jan 4. “Be careful and only buy tests through authorized dealers so you can ensure the integrity of your test.”

Facebook’s parent company, Meta, told CNN Business that it bans the sale of test kits on any of its platforms.

Need a quick home test or PCR?

The two main types of COVID-19 tests are rapid antigen tests and polymerase chain reaction tests. Antigen testing can be taken at home and return results in about 10 to 15 minutes. PCR tests are more accurate, but require laboratory work and generally do not give results for at least 12 hours or even up to 5 days.

Both tests typically use nasal inoculation samples, although some collect saliva. PCR tests administered by a professional may require a nasopharyngeal sample involving a much deeper nostril. Rapid antigen testing usually requires swirling a cotton swab into the nostril less than an inch deep.

PCR tests amplify genetic material from the collected sample up to a billion times to detect even the smallest amount of COVID-19 genes, making them highly accurate. They are also more expensive and usually cost more than $ 100 apiece.

Rapid antigen tests simply detect the presence of COVID-19 antigens – the substances that cause your immune system to make antibodies – and work much like home pregnancy tests. If your sample contains COVID-19 antigens, the thin line of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies on the test strip will change color.

Because rapid tests simply look for the existence of antigens, they work best when someone is symptomatic. Rapid antigen tests are less successful with early infections and asymptomatic cases. The risk of a false negative is much higher with a quick test than a false positive.

The type of test you choose depends mostly on your situation. Do you need results right now, and are you willing to risk less accuracy? Then quickly antigen fits the bill. If you want closer to 100% accuracy and do not need instant results, “gold standard” PCR is your best choice.


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What if you test positive for COVID-19 using a home test?

If you are taking a home test and it is positive for COVID-19, it is recommended that you share the results with your doctor and your local health department. However, methods for reporting self-tests to health departments vary widely: some have online forms, others require e-mail, and still others use telephone reporting. Check your local health department’s website for specific information on how to report a positive outcome.

After receiving a positive test result, you should isolate for at least five days, and longer if you are symptomatic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although the risk of false positives from rapid tests is low, most medical experts and health authorities still recommend confirming a positive home test with a subsequent PCR test.

For more information, here’s the latest on the federal vaccine mandate and everything you need to know about Modern booster shots.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.

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