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Don't Miss Out on Free At-Home COVID-19 Tests: How to Get Them

The federal government stopped shipping COVID-19 kits but you can still get at-home tests for free.

Photo of a hand holding a COVID-19 at-home rapid test
Health insurance will cover eight free COVID tests a month.
Sarah Tew/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

As winter approaches and you develop a cough, sneeze or the sniffles, you'll probably be wondering: is it COVID-19, the flu or a cold? With RSV still spreading widely and experts predicting the worst flu season in years, you'll want to know for sure if it's COVID-19 or something else.

Rapid antigen COVID-19 tests taken at home can let you know when you have COVID-19 and need to isolate, but they're not cheap -- each test generally runs about $10. Earlier this year, a White House program delivered millions of free at-home COVID-19 tests through the US Postal Service, but that program was suspended on Sept. 2, 2022.

Even though you can no longer order free tests through the Postal Service, there are still other ways to get at-home tests for free. Learn about your options for finding free COVID-19 tests, as well as what might happen next with the federal program to deliver free tests.

For more on COVID-19 testing, learn why the expiration date on your COVID-19 test box might be wrong and whether at-home tests detect the BA.5 subvariants of COVID-19.

How can I get free COVID-19 tests now?

Even though free COVID-19 tests via the Post Office have stopped, you have a few options for finding similar at-home tests for free. First and foremost, if you have private health insurance, you can get eight free tests per person per month. That means a family of four gets 32 free tests monthly. 

In January, the Biden administration declared that health insurance companies would be required to cover at-home tests. Participants can either receive their eight free tests a month from provider-based pharmacies or be reimbursed by their provider for up to $12 for each test they purchase.

Major pharmacy chains originally required customers with insurance to pay for tests upfront and get reimbursed, but some have now shifted to a model where most customers with insurance cards can get eight tests per month at no cost. Both Walgreens and CVS allow customers with insurance cards to order COVID-19 tests for free on their websites.

At-home COVID-19 tests are also eligible expenses for flexible spending accounts and health savings accounts.

Medicare was not initially included in the plan to distribute free COVID-19 tests, but in April the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced that participants with Plan B or those enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans are also eligible to receive eight free tests a month

Covid-19 at home rapid test kit

It's still possible to get free COVID-19 test kits through health insurance, Medicare or local health clinics.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you're not insured or covered by Medicare, you still can get free COVID-19 tests. As part of the Biden administration's National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan, the Department of Health and Human Services has provided millions of free COVID-19 tests to community health centers and Medicare-certified rural health clinics.

You can search for a local health center or clinic with free COVID-19 tests near you using a tool on the HHS website.

How did the free COVID-19 test program from USPS work?

In January, President Joe Biden announced the launch of CovidTests.gov, a website that let households order four free rapid antigen COVID-19 tests shipped by USPS. The site added four more free tests in March, and then another eight more in May. 

Unlike some complicated government applications, ordering free tests from the Postal Service was simple. It took less than two minutes to complete a short form asking for your name and mailing address, and the tests shipped in about a week or two. Americans without internet access or those who had trouble ordering online could request tests using a toll-free phone number.

A phone recording at that COVID-19 hotline reiterates that test orders have been suspended, but it also mentions that people who are blind or have low vision can order specially designed COVID-19 tests that are more accessible. However, a representative on the hotline said that those tests are no longer available for order either.

Why has USPS stopped taking orders for free COVID-19 tests?

According to the White House, without new funding for Congress to pay for at-home COVID-19 tests, the government needs to conserve the supply that it has remaining in case of a major COVID-19 outbreak this fall. The Biden administration has been urging Congress to approve more money to fight the pandemic for most of 2022, but efforts have stalled

A $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill in the spring was passed only after removing all funding for COVID-19. In a March 9 letter to colleagues, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi blamed the lack of COVID-19 funding on Republicans' insistence that all money be offset by cuts elsewhere, to which several Democrats objected.

The Biden administration has suggested that as many as 100 million Americans could be infected with COVID-19 this fall and winter. The White House also recently extended the public health emergency order until Jan. 11, 2023.

Will the Postal Service program for free COVID-19 tests return?

It's all about the funding. In an interview with NBC News, an unnamed senior Biden official said, "If Congress provides funding, we will expeditiously resume distribution of free tests through CovidTests.gov."

On Sept. 2, Office of Management and Budget director Shalanda Young announced that the White House is now asking Congress for $22.4 million in funding to "meet immediate short-term domestic needs, including testing; accelerate the research and development of next-generation vaccines and therapeutics; prepare for future variants; and support the global response to COVID-19."

For more on COVID-19 at-home testing, learn about the COVID-19 testing guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration and how to spot fake COVID tests

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.