At-home COVID tests: More states providing them, and free tests for all of US coming soon – CNET

COVID-19 home testing kit

Demand for at-home COVID-19 testing kits has skyrocketed as the omicron variant surges across the US.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

The explosive spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19 during the year-end holiday season has led to a shortage of test kits and raised costs of testing programs in many states. In response, manufacturers have increased production, and the Food and Drug Administration has been approving new tests at an unprecedented speed: Acon Laboratories says it will be able to produce more than 100 million Flowflex COVID-19 Home Test kits per month by the end of 2021, and more than 200 million by February.

We’ll share what we know now, and will continue to update this story as we learn more details, including when the federal reimbursement program starts and exactly how it will work. Also, get the latest on the Pfizer COVID-19 pill Paxlovid, updates on mask mandates and how to choose a booster shot.

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When will free at-home COVID-19 tests be available?

Starting early next year, over-the-counter COVID-19 test kits will be available for free to everyone: Under a plan announced by President Joe Biden, health insurance companies will be required to reimburse Americans for home antigen tests, which can cost more than $25 each.

Those who don’t have health insurance will also have access to free kits at health centers and other community sites. The Biden administration has pledged to make 50 million tests available at such locations.

The White House has said it will issue reimbursement guidelines to health insurers by January 15 and companies are expected to start refunding the costs of at-home testing shortly after. The plan is not expected to be retroactive, however, so kits purchased before then will not likely be covered. 

Some states, including Vermont, have mandated insurers to start paying for at-home kits now. Others, including Washington, New Hampshire and New Jersey, have started issuing free test kits to their states’ residents. Massachusetts plans to distribute 2.1 million free test kits to 100 municipalities. On Monday, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced a new plan to deliver 3 million at-home tests and 6 million N95 masks to state residents starting Dec. 30.

If you don’t live in one of those states you may want to check with your employer, as some private companies have begun offering reimbursement options for at-home tests.

Once the White House plan does take effect, anyone with insurance will be able to submit a receipt or other proof of payment for reimbursement after buying a test. The process is similar to visiting an on-site testing facility and submitting your bill to a health insurance provider.

What if I don’t have health insurance?

For those without insurance, Biden says there will be “thousands of locations” available to pick up COVID-19 test kits. You’ll be able to take the kit home to test in private, rather than get swabbed in a drive-thru clinic.

In its announcement on Dec. 2, the Biden administration promised to distribute at least 50 million free tests to community health centers and other organizations.

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Where can I get an at-home COVID-19 test?

At-home rapid COVID-19 tests are available at pharmacies like Walgreens, CVS and Walmart. You can also buy them online at Amazon or at the websites of the pharmacies. It’s unclear at this time if you can still claim them on your insurance when you buy online. Each box typically comes with two tests, unless you buy in bulk.

How much do at-home COVID tests cost?

The FDA has authorized 13 different rapid at-home COVID tests and 61 different at-home collection tests. Rapid antigen tests are generally much cheaper than home collection tests. Costs vary from brand to brand, but the rapid tests generally run about $10 to $12 apiece.

Both Walgreens and CVS are selling Abbott’s BinaxNow and Quedel’s QuickVue tests — two of the first authorized — for $24 for a pack of two. Acon’s FlowFlex rapid test usually runs slightly less — currently $10 for one test at both Walgreens and CVS.

Home collection tests — where a nasal swab or saliva sample is sent to a lab — cost much more than the rapid antigen tests. CVS and Walgreens are selling Labcorp’s Pixel home-collection test for $125.

Buying in bulk seems like a way to cut down the cost of individual tests, but that hasn’t happened in reality yet. Amazon is selling a two-pack of Intrivo’s On/Go rapid test for $24.49 ($12.45 a piece), but the price for 40, at $499, is slightly more per test: $12.48 apiece.

Unfortunately, almost all of the tests mentioned are out of stock for online purchase due to the December rush. We’ll continue to update this section as the availability of tests changes.

What should I do if my at-home test shows positive for COVID?

If you take an at-home test and it says you’re positive for COVID-19, it’s recommended that you turn your results in to your health care provider. You should stay home and isolate for 10 days, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

For more information, here’s the latest on the federal vaccine mandate and everything you need to know about the Moderna booster shot.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.