How to get free rapid at-home tests under new federal rules


SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — New federal rules go into effect Saturday that will allow people to get at-home COVID-19 tests covered by their health insurance, but getting those tests for free will take work on your part.

Under the new requirements, private health insurers must pay for up to eight home tests per person per month. This represents 32 rapid tests per month for a family of four on the same plan.

The rules apply to tests purchased on or after Saturday, January 15. You cannot be reimbursed for previously purchased rapid tests.

Individuals should first check with their health insurance company if it has established a “preferred provider” location, such as an in-network pharmacy. At these locations, customers should be able to flash an insurance card and pay nothing.

Just one problem: “So far we haven’t found any insurers who have already implemented these preferred provider agreements for rapid tests,” said Krutika Amin, health policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Health insurers and pharmacies are still scrambling to finalize the new systems needed to cover these over-the-counter tests. The White House announced the new policy on Monday, just five days before it took effect.

Some insurance companies say it will be weeks before customers can visit a pharmacy and get a rapid test for free.

For now, you will need to pay for the test in advance and submit the receipt to your insurance company later for reimbursement.

The new policy allows people to buy tests in person or online and be reimbursed later, but keep an eye on the price. Insurance companies are only required to reimburse you for $12 per test or $24 for a box of two.

If you pay more, you will be responsible for the difference, Amin said. “$49.99 is the highest price [for one rapid test] that we found. The insurance company will only reimburse $12 of the $49.99,” she said.

Since the process is new to insurance companies, she said people should expect to wait a while for that refund check. Processing times can vary, but it can take weeks or months.

The new policy only applies to private health insurance, not government-sponsored insurance like Medicare. People on Medicare should inquire at community health centers for a free rapid test.

On Friday, the White House announced that all Americans could order up to four rapid tests through a new government website next week, whether or not they have health insurance.

The website, covidtests.gov, will begin accepting orders on Wednesday.

There will be no shipping charges and no credit card required. The tests will ship 7 to 12 days after someone places an order, the White House said.

The supply of rapid tests remains limited. The Kaiser Family Foundation surveyed six major retailers from January 3-10. They found that retailers only had rapid tests in stock 9% of the time.

Target, CVS and Walgreens had no testing during the 8-day period.

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