The Government Is Giving Out Free At-Home COVID Tests Again. Here’s How to Get Yours

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COVID-19 testing can get expensive, but there are ways to reduce the costs.


Key points

  • Each household can apply for one package containing four COVID-19 tests.
  • The federal government is also distributing free tests to a number of locations such as schools and health centers.
  • Health insurance providers will also cover up to eight free at-home tests each month.

In pre-COVID days, getting a cough, cold, or flu might involve staying at home for a few days and taking some medicine. Now, for many people, it also can involve an at-home COVID-19 test. Not only can this help reduce the risk of infecting others, it can empower people to seek treatment if needed.

But the cost of testing can add up, particularly if you need to test your whole family. Over-the-counter at-home tests cost around $10 each at Walgreens and prices are similar in other pharmacies. With the number of bugs that have been doing the rounds in recent months, a $10 test for each person can become prohibitively expensive for some families.

That’s one of the reasons White House says it will once again mail out free at-home COVID-19 tests. According to last week’s announcement, the first tests began shipping Dec. 19. The move is part of a slew of wider measures that aim to handle an increase in COVID cases this winter.

How to get your free at-home test

Each US household can apply for one set of free at-home tests online at COVIDTests.gov. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Each pack contains four tests.
  • Only one pack is available per household.
  • To apply, enter your name and shipping address or call 1-800-232-0233.

Don’t wait until you have symptoms to apply for the testing kits. There are only a limited number of tests available, so the sooner you apply, the more likely you are to receive one.

The government’s “COVID-⁠19 Winter Preparedness Plan” also involves distributing free tests to a range of locations. These include community health centers, schools, and long-term care facilities. Authorities will also deliver tests to food banks so that they can be handed out to those in need.

Your health insurance may also pay for at-home tests

Four free at-home tests is a help, but if you have a family, they may not go very far. Your health insurance provider may also pay for over-the-counter tests. Whether your employer provides your health insurance or you’re covered by a personal plan or Medicare, you are entitled to up to eight at-home tests every month.

You can either pick the tests up at an in-network pharmacy or buy them yourself and submit a claim. If you opt for the latter, make sure you keep the receipts. It’s worth checking with your health insurer first to understand what their specific requirements are.

The federal government is also setting up additional “Test to Treat” sites, where people can get tested for free and also get prescriptions for COVID treatments. There’s also a move to set up more vaccination sites throughout the country.

bottom line

Given the extent to which the cost-of-living increases have put pressure on many Americans’ bank accounts, those free tests could free up cash for other essentials. If you’ve been having trouble paying your bills, make sure to apply online to receive free tests. It’s also worth finding out what your health insurer will cover and how you can qualify.

The specter of COVID-19 is still hanging over parts of our lives, even if a lot of things have returned to normal. Not only are we now suffering the economic aftereffects, the onset of winter and the holiday season means case numbers are starting to rise again. For some, being able to get your hands on free tests this winter may be the difference between getting tested or not.

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