Free At-Home Covid Test Kits Website Launches Early – Forbes
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Updated: Jan 25, 2022, 9:22am
American households can now order free rapid Covid-19 tests from COVIDTests.gov. The website launched a day earlier than anticipated to “address troubleshooting.”
The White House says the initiative aims to protect people from severe illness, and it’s part of a multi-pronged strategy that includes adding federal testing, free N95 masks and pop-up vaccination sites, while reimbursing Americans for up to eight at-home tests per month through their insurance. However, some experts say 500 million tests aren’t even close enough to what is needed to help curb the spread of the Omicron variant.
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Visit COVIDTests.gov to order your test kits. No credit card is required to order. Clicking on the button to order your tests will send you to a USPS page that will ask for your name and address of where you want the tests sent.
Each household can order up to four tests in total to valid residential addresses. If a member of the same household tries to order more tests in their name, the request will be denied.
There are reports of difficulties placing orders, particularly for renters living in large apartment buildings. According to Berkeleyside, a nonprofit news organization in Berkeley, Calif, some people living in multi-unit apartment buildings or duplexes are being blocked from ordering tests after other residents in other units placed orders. People living in duplexes are also experiencing issues.
A USPS spokesperson told Berkeleyside it’s seeing “very limited” cases where multi-unit addresses are preventing people from ordering their tests. If you’re experiencing such issues, you can file a help request online or call the help desk at 1-800-ASK-USPS.
Tests will typically ship within 7 to 12 days from ordering, but that timeframe could shorten as the program gains momentum. The U.S. Postal Service says delivery will begin late January. Households without access to the internet can order their tests by calling 1-800-232-0233. The line is open from 8 a.m. to midnight EST every day and offers assistance to callers in more than 150 languages.
The CDC recommends Americans use at-home tests if they begin to have symptoms, or take a test at least five days after coming into contact with someone who has contracted the virus. It’s also recommended that those gathering indoors with others at risk of severe disease, or the unvaccinated, test themselves beforehand.
The wait time for tests to ship and deliver means households shouldn’t wait until they’re exhibiting symptoms to request their free tests; they should order them as soon as possible to have them on hand.
At-home kits provide convenience and the opportunity to mitigate community spread by enabling testing in your own home, but until this move by the federal government, they weren’t cheap and were difficult to find.
As the Omicron variant caused a surge in infections, there are reports of sold-out at-home testing kits across the country. An analysis of Covid-19 test availability from Jan. 3 to Jan. 10 by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that at-home Covid-19 tests were unavailable 91% of the time.
If you’re lucky enough to get one at a local store, at-home test kits are eligible medical expenses that can be paid or reimbursed under health savings accounts (HSAs), health flexible spending arrangements (health FSAs), health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) and Archer medical savings accounts (Archer MSAs). And as of Jan. 15, insurers are required to reimburse consumers for the costs of up to eight at-home Covid tests per individual, per month.
But research shows that people who would benefit the most from HSAs to help cover high upfront medical costs, including low-income, Black and Hispanic Americans, are significantly less likely than White and higher-income counterparts to have access to these vehicles. Free tests in theory could help alleviate that burden for low-income Americans of color.
Researchers at the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute are also critical of the insurance reimbursement mandate.
“Financing these tests through a cumbersome reimbursement process is about the most inefficient, inequitable, and costly approach the U.S. could take,” reads a blog post from the institute’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms. The researchers point out that not all families have the financial means to cover upfront costs and wait for their reimbursements.
As of Jan. 14, there are currently 20,000 federal testing sites across the U.S., with more opening up each week, according to the White House. The Defense Production Act is still in place, allowing the country to quickly produce as many tests as possible.
According to the CDC, the best way to protect yourself and others from Covid-19 is to get vaccinated. Visit Vaccines.gov to find a vaccination center near you.
I’m a Consumer Finance Reporter for Forbes Advisor. I cover what’s going on in the news and how it affects your bottom line. I’ve been featured as a personal finance expert in outlets like CNBC, Yahoo! Finance, CBS News Radio and more. I’m currently based in Paris, France where I am pursuing my master’s degree in communication studies. Follow me on Twitter at @keywordkelly.