When a person experiences symptoms of COVID-19, the first plan of action is to Google something similar to “COVID tests near me.” However, setting up an appointment with a nearby COVID testing center can be time-consuming.
It often involves a lengthy process, and when the demand for tests is at an all-time high like they were this past January, appointments can be extremely hard to get. In response to the high demand of COVID tests, the federal government has recently launched a website for free at-home COVID tests, giving people within the U.S. a more accessible testing option.
Table of Contents
How much does it cost for a COVID-19 test?
In many cases, COVID testing is free. Many state and local health departments continue to offer free tests. In other cases, commercially-insured patients, or those on Medicare or Medicaid, may also receive testing without paying out-of-pocket costs.
Although a patient’s insurance will typically be processed in order to pay for COVID testing, consumers can still choose to pay for a test at an out-of-pocket price. The costs will most likely be determined by factors like where you live, whether or not you have insurance, the type of the test taken, and if you’ve received any additional services, such as a screening or a specimen collection.
In April of 2021, the Kaiser Family Foundation conducted an analysis of publicly posted pricing information on the websites of the two largest hospitals in each U.S. state, plus Washington D.C. In total, they were able to find 93 websites that had their COVID testing prices published online.
The costs between hospitals varied drastically, but nearly half of the tests were priced between $100 and $199, with a median price of $148. The highest price that Kaiser found was close to $1,500. That is well over what Medicare pays for a COVID test, so it’s important to be mindful of that. Also, some hospitals do not perform COVID tests unless you have been referred to them by a doctor.
How to get free COVID tests
There are a few different ways to find a location that offers free, on-site COVID tests. One option is to pick up the phone and call your healthcare provider or local public health department to find out where testing is available. Your local health department or official state website will have either a testing site locator directly on their site or a link leading you to more information.
Another option is to visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website where you’ll be able to locate community-based sites that provide COVID testing to all individuals, regardless of their ability to pay.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers free COVID testing through their partnerships with select pharmacies as well. These partnerships protect healthcare personnel by mitigating risks associated with direct contact with symptomatic individuals.
Who can order a free at-home test?
Virtually anyone with an address can get four at-home COVID tests for free. The main two ways of receiving a free test are through reimbursement from your healthcare provider or by ordering one from the federal government.
The federal government is distributing free at-home COVID tests that are shipped directly to your door by the USPS. The distribution program is based on a physical address, and the amount shipped to each address is currently not predicated on how many people actually live in the household. That means that there are only four tests per address, despite the number of people living in the household.
Only residential households and P.O. boxes are acceptable addresses. This means that addresses registered to businesses and business P.O. boxes are excluded.
For a COVID test with insurance, a great option is to visit your local pharmacy or health center. Many of these health centers offer a wide variety of different COVID tests developed by various laboratories.
Health insurers are required to cover up to eight free tests per individual on a health insurance plan, carriers can establish in-network pharmacies where the cost will be covered up front, and cap coverage at out-of-network retailers at $12 per test.
Additionally, many at-home COVID tests qualify for reimbursement through Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), or Archer Medical Savings Accounts (Archer MSAs). In fact, even masks and hand sanitizers qualify as medical expenses, according to the IRS.
Find out from your insurer if it is providing direct coverage of over the counter COVID tests and well as finding out of network or preferred pharmacies or retailers at which to obtain free tests
You can get free at-home tests regardless of your insurance status. If you don’t have insurance you can get free at-home tests through COVIDtests.gov, some community health care centers, and other local sites.
Many states are launching their own pilot programs as well. If you are looking for additional tests aside from what the federal government is currently offering, try contacting your state or local health department to see if your state is offering free at-home tests.
Where can I find a free at-home COVID test?
It is now easier than ever to find free at-home COVID tests, regardless of your insurance status.
You can now get 4 free at-home COVID tests per household through the federal government at COVIDtests.gov. Through COVIDtests.gov, a household is able to order four individual rapid antigen tests for free. Orders will be delivered by the USPS usually shipped within 7-12 days. In order to receive tracking information on the order, you must provide an email address when filling out the request form.
According to the White House, the federal government has also provided a phone number that is open between 8 AM and midnight in the Eastern Standard Time timezone. For those that need additional help finding free at-home tests, call 1 (800) 232-0233. It is the same number that the CDC established to help people find vaccines.
The at-home rapid antigen tests can be taken anywhere. They give results in less than 30 minutes, work whether or not you are experiencing COVID symptoms, and whether or not you have received the vaccine and any further booster shots.
You will not be able to choose the brand of COVID tests that you receive, although the website states that all tests will be FDA approved. There is no information as of yet, on the website or the FAQ, about whether or not the tests will be accepted for travel.
Keep in mind that the government-issued COVID test is a rapid antigen test, so those looking for an at-home PCR test will need to look at other options.
Stores or pharmacies
Most people can also go to a pharmacy or store to purchase an at-home over-the-counter test at no cost, through reimbursement, or free of charge through their insurance. There are a few advantages of ordering a COVID test at a store or pharmacy.
One advantage is that you are able to choose the brand and type of test that you want. Many carry both at-home PCR and rapid tests. Another positive is that many retailers and pharmacies also have an online platform for purchasing these COVID tests. Some even offer free shipping.
Select insurance plans cover up to eight COVID tests per month. If you buy an at-home COVID test from a store, pharmacy, or online retailer, keep your receipt and submit a claim to your insurance company.
Multiple options for free at-home COVID tests
The federal government has made it much easier for anyone, including those without insurance, to get free at-home testing kits. Pharmacies, stores, and third-party retailers are all also contributing by providing many different options for consumers as well as providing both antigen and PCR COVID tests.
The bottom line is that if you are in doubt, either call your state, local health department, pharmacy, or check with your healthcare provider to find COVID-19 tests near you.
Where can I get a free COVID test?
Any household with a valid residential address or P.O. box can obtain 4 free at-home rapid antigen COVID tests by registering for one at COVIDtests.gov. The tests are shipped by the USPS and usually arrive within seven to twelve days.
How long does it take to get COVID test results?
For rapid antigen COVID-19 tests, it usually only takes between 15 and 30 minutes to receive results. PCR tests typically take longer because they have to be done in the lab and can take up to five days to get results back.
How much does a COVID test cost?
Many people can get a COVID test for free from the federal government or on-site at local health centers. Self-pay options typically range anywhere from $10 to $150 depending on the type of test and the distributor.