As you may have heard, the Biden administration has setup a system for getting Rapid (RAT) COVID-19 tests into your hands for free. This is a wonderful development because they've been basically impossible to find, but how exactly do you go about getting them and how do you make sure they're free?
Update (5/17/22): USPS has announced that “Residential households in the U.S. are now eligible for another order of free at-home tests on USPS.com.” so you are now entitled to 8 more units for free if you order at the same link below.
Rapid tests are wonderful, especially as they've made it easier to safely connect with family and friends, but because of that convenience and magic, they've become nearly impossible to find all over the world.
Lucky for those of us living in the United States, we've got some options now.
What exactly has been arranged for these free tests?
It's important to note first that there are two separate initiatives that can be confused together:
- Starting January 19th, all Americans are entitled to four free tests (whether you have insurance or not); and
- Starting January 15th, private insurers (your health insurance company) are required to cover 8 at-home COVID-19 tests per month.
These are two separate programs and if you have health insurance, you are able to dip into each of the programs and get your tests.
1. Four free Rapid COVID-19 tests from the US Government
This newer initiative (which you can read all about at Whitehouse.gov):
will ensure that Americans have at-home, rapid COVID-19 tests available in the weeks and months ahead—in addition to the number of other ways they can get tested.
The idea is that the more tests they can freely distribute, the more people will ensure they're not circulating if they're positive. So this is all great news.
How do you get your four free Rapid COVID-19 tests from the US Government?
They've tried to make this as easy as possible, and as this program is rolling out immediately to the whole of the US, I would jump on it asap if you need tests.
To order, you simply go to COVIDTests.gov and push “Order Free At-Home Tests”.
This will take you to a USPS webpage (USPS is the one who will be distributing these tests, praise the mailman) which allows you to input your information.
This page also contains some important information:
- Limit of one order per residential address
- One order includes 4 individual rapid antigen COVID-19 tests
- Orders will ship free starting in late January
The most important one to note is that this is limited to one order per residential address, not one order per person. So if you live in a share-house or with others, be sure to coordinate with them and distribute them as required.
What's the deal with insurance companies covering eight at-home tests?
This second program (that launched on January 15) is in relation to insurance companies being required to fully cover eight at-home tests per month.
This is lots of tests, which is great, but you want to be a little bit careful about how you go about getting these.
Every insurance company, while being broadly required to offer tests, has different rules on exactly which tests are being made free, and how exactly you have to get them.
If for example you're with Cigna, you can go to this Cigna page which I found by Googling “Cigna COVID test” and you are taken to a page that explains:
Starting January 15, 2022, your plan will cover 8 individual at-home over-the-counter COVID-19 tests per person enrolled in the plan per month. The limit of 8 does not apply if tests are ordered or administered by a health care provider following a clinical assessment.
To get reimbursed for tests purchased after January 15, download and print a COVID-19 Over-the-Counter (OTC) Test Kit Claim Form [PDF]
This is great, but you want to make sure you read the fine-print of the PDF because it does detail specific kits that are covered, and requires you to make a full claim to get your money back.
All in all, worth the hassle, but don't get caught out!
How do you get your insurance to cover eight at-home tests per month?
Every insurance company is different, so head to your insurance company's COVID testing page and read their conditions on how to get your tests free or reimbursed. Some helpful things to look out for are “January 15” and “8 individual at-home over-the-counter COVID-19 tests”. That limit of 8 and that date are essential when it comes to this program.
Some of the major insurance company links are below:
These links may not be current so please be sure to do your own comprehensive research and reach out to your own health insurance company.
What's most important to note though: Don't just order kits off the internet and hope for the best. Check with your insurance company and work out the exact process first!
What about Rapid Tests for re-entering the United States after travel?
I've written a whole separate article about this because the rapid tests that are required for entry into the US have very specific requirements, and it's important that you find the right tests for this.