Americans Should Soon Be Able to Get Free At-Home Covid Tests

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  • The Biden administration has said those with private health insurance can request reimbursement for at-home Covid tests they buy at pharmacies and elsewhere.
  • It's doubling the amount of free tests it distributes across community centers to 50 million, from 25 million.

Amid all the worrisome news about the omicron variant, there one's good development: Soon most Americans should be able to pick up at-home Covid tests for free.

The Biden administration said earlier this month that those with private health insurance can request reimbursement from their plans for these takeaway tests, which usually run from around $15 to $40.

It's uncertain when the new coverage starts, and tests you've bought in the past and before the holidays probably won't qualify for repayment, said Lindsey Dawson, an associate director at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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Details of the new plan remain thin, with the White house saying it will release more information next month.

But here's what we know now.

Who can get the free tests?

The White House says that the 150 million Americans who have private health insurance will be eligible for full reimbursement after they buy an at-home Covid test. That includes people insured by their employer, as well as those who've bought a plan on the Affordable Care Act's marketplace, Dawson said.

The new rules don't apply to those on Medicaid and Medicare, although that could change, and those on Medicare with private insurance may be covered.

Short-term or health-care sharing plans typically won't have to cover your tests, said Sabrina Corlette, co-director of the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy.

At-home Covid tests are also an eligible expense for flexible savings accounts and health savings accounts.

Can I get any test?

Experts said we'll have to wait for more guidance from the government to know which will be covered, but they expect that most at-home tests available at pharmacies will be included under the policy.

How do I make sure I get reimbursed by my insurer?

You'll likely have to put in some legwork to get repaid, Dawson said.

Many people may not even be familiar with their provider's reimbursement policy. (You can start learning about it by contacting your plan.)

It will be crucial that you keep your receipt, said Caitlin Donovan, a spokeswoman for the Patient Advocate Foundation

"Your normal receipt should be fine — I've even printed out receipts from Amazon — and then you would have to send it in," said Donovan, adding that insurers generally have a reimbursement form they want you to fill out.

"Insurers will generally have a physical mailing address," she said. "They may also have an option for e-submission, meaning you can upload it to their site or email it in."

To send in a more straightforward receipt, Donovan recommends asking the cashier to ring the tests up separately from additional purchases.

Corlette hopes the government's guidance in January requires insurers to reimburse people within a certain timeframe.

"Some companies can take a long time to cut those checks," Corlette said.

What if I don't have insurance?

If you don't have insurance, or if you're covered through Medicaid and Medicare, the White House said it's doubling the amount of free tests it distributes across community centers to 50 million, from 25 million.

You should be able to find one of these centers at your state or local health agency's website, Corlette said.

When should I use an at-home test?

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Dawson cited some of the most common circumstances in which people may want to test themselves for the virus: They've come into contact with someone diagnosed with Covid, they're displaying symptoms of the virus or they're expected to attend a high-risk event, such as a big family gathering, or an encounter with someone immunocompromised.

Can I use an at-home test for traveling purposes?

Most takeaway tests purchased at, say, your local Walgreens won't provide results you can use before a flight or cruise. However, there's at least one at-home test the CDC has approved for travel purposes, according to travel site The Points Guy.

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