If you have private health insurance, you’re eligible for free at-home COVID tests starting Saturday, Jan. 15. The Biden Administration announced earlier this week that private insurers would be required to foot the bill for eight home COVID tests per month for each customer covered under a plan.
But finding tests could still be a challenge in the weeks to come. Also, many insurers won’t have the systems in place that would allow customers to access tests without paying out of pocket. That means it’s likely that you could have to pay upfront for tests and then submit a claim to reimbursement for your insurer.
Want to learn more about how to access free home COVID tests? Here’s everything you need to know.
Is My Insurance Company Required to Provide Free Home COVID Tests?
Yes, if you’re covered by a private insurance plan. If you have coverage through your employer or you bought a plan on the Affordable Care Act marketplace, your plan is required to cover the cost of eight tests per month.
Does Everyone in My Household Get 8 Free Tests?
Yes. The mandate requires insurers to cover eight free tests each month for each person covered under a plan. If you have a family of four and everyone is insured under your plan, your household can receive 32 tests per month.
How Do I Get My Free COVID Testing Kits?
Check with your insurer about whether it has a network of preferred pharmacies and retailers. If you get your test from within your insurance company’s network, you should be able to get your tests with no out-of-pocket cost.
You can also buy your test elsewhere and submit a claim for reimbursement. If you go that route, be sure to save a copy of your receipt. But be aware that your insurer can cap reimbursement at $12 per test if it has a preferred network and you choose to go out of network. If your insurance company doesn’t have a preferred network, they’re required to cover 100% of the cost no matter where you buy your testing kits.
If your insurer requires you to submit a claim for reimbursement, purchase your COVID tests separately from other items and get a receipt to streamline things.
Will I Need to Pay Upfront?
Check with your insurance company. But there’s a good chance you’ll need to pay out of pocket for tests at the beginning. As The New York Times reported, home tests don’t have the billing codes that insurers need to process claims. Many insurance companies will require customers to save their receipts and submit a claim for reimbursement, just as you would if you went out of network for care.
Can I Buy All 8 Tests at Once?
Yes. You’re allowed to buy all eight tests at once or space out your purchases throughout the month. But keep in mind that as of this writing on Jan. 14, 2022, testing kits remain in extremely short supply.
What if I Don’t Have Health Insurance?
The federal government is purchasing 1 billion home tests and recently launched covidtests.gov, which allows every household in the U.S. to order four free home tests. You can also go to a community health center that offers free rapid tests.
Can I Get Free Tests if I’m on Medicaid?
Yes. State Medicare programs and Children’s Health Insurance Programs were already required to cover home testing kits under the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill that passed in March 2021.
Can I Get Free Tests if I’m on Medicare?
At-home tests aren’t covered by original Medicare. If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, check with your plan about whether they’ll pay for home testing. You can also access four free tests using covidtests.gov or go to a community health center for rapid testing.
Will the VA Cover Home Tests?
Veterans Affairs won’t send out free tests for now, but in many circumstances veterans can receive free testing at VA hospitals. Veterans can also order free tests through covidtests.gov.
Will I Get Reimbursed for Tests I’ve Already Paid for?
Check with your insurer. Insurance companies aren’t required by federal law to retroactively cover home tests purchased before Jan. 15, 2022. However, some states already require insurers to cover at-home tests.
Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at Codetic. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected] or chat with her in Codetic Community.