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Free rapid COVID-19 tests available: US government web page, pharmacies

Every residential address in the US can order four rapid antigen test (RAT) kits for free, expected to be delivered in late January, through an official government web page: covidtests.gov (which currently redirects to a site operated by the US Postal Service special.usps.com/testkits). Persons need enter only their name and shipping address to place a free order, and optionally can enter an e-mail address to be notified about order progress. The ordering system opened publicly one day earlier than had been announced.

According to the web page, “the tests available for order: are rapid antigen at-home tests, not PCR; can be taken anywhere; give results within 30 minutes (no lab drop-off required); work whether or not you have COVID-19 symptoms; work whether or not you are up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines; [and] are also referred to self-tests or over-the-counter (OTC) tests.” It is recommended to take an at-home test “if you begin having COVID-19 symptoms like fever, sore throat, runny nose, or loss of taste or smell; or at least 5 days after you come into close contact with someone with COVID-19; or when you’re going to gather with a group of people, especially those who are at risk of severe disease or may not be up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines.”

The federal government maintains a web resource of physical locations where COVID-19 testing services can be obtained, often at no cost: hhs.gov/coronavirus/community-based-testing-sites/index.html

This free program is separate from and in addition to a federal mandate that private health insurers either directly cover or indirectly reimburse each insured individual for up to eight at-home over-the-counter RAT kits per month, up to $12 per test. Families on the same insurance plan are eligible for RAT kits on an individual basis, so a family of four would be eligible for eight each, or 32 tests, per month.

Coverage applies equally regardless of whether the private health insurance plan is purchased directly or as part of a group such as through an employer. Most insurers will pay directly for the tests at point of purchase, such as an in-network pharmacy, much the same as prescription drug coverage, but otherwise may require the insured person to pay up-front and submit receipts for reimbursement.

Each person covered by Medicaid (but not Medicare) or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) programs is eligible for direct purchase of up to eight RAT kits per month from any in-network pharmacy with no cost or co-pay.

Medicare (as opposed to Medicaid) pays for laboratory tests but not at-home tests, and may require prescription by a health professional; however, some Medicare Advantage programs may cover at-home tests, so it is necessary to check the specific plan.

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