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Free COVID Tests from USPS Have Stopped: How Else Can You Get Free At-Home Tests?

The government program that shipped free COVID-19 tests in the mail has run out, but there are other ways to get them.

COVID-19 at home rapid test kit
The US Postal Service had been delivering free COVID tests since January.
Sarah Tew/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

A federal program that has delivered millions of free at-home COVID-19 tests to American households through the US Postal Service has now ended, due to a lack of supply.

USA Today first reported on Aug. 26 about the limited supply of tests. Soon after, USPS updated its page for at-home COVID tests to say the free at-home COVID-19 tests program would be suspended on Sept. 2, 2022. On Friday, the site updated again to announce it is no longer accepting orders for tests.

A screenshot of the US Postal Service website announcing that the program is not currently accepting orders for free at-home COVID-19 tests
US Postal Service/Screenshot by Peter Butler/CNET

The original website that the government launched in January -- CovidTests.gov -- now has a banner that reads, "Ordering through the free at-home test program was suspended on Friday, September 2 because Congress hasn't provided additional funding to replenish the nation's stockpile of tests."

Even though the Postal Service has suspended delivery of COVID tests, there are other ways to get tests for free. Learn your options for finding free COVID-19 tests, as well as what happens next with the federal program to deliver free tests.

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

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 COVID test orders have been suspended, but it also mentions that people who are blind or have low vision can order specially designed COVID tests that are more accessible. However, a representative on the hotline said that those tests are no longer available for order either. That confirms a report from CBS News that the accessible tests are also "temporarily out of stock."

Why has USPS stopped taking orders for free COVID tests?

According to the White House, without new funding for Congress to pay for at-home COVID 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 COVID 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.

Will the Postal Service program for free COVID 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 COVID 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."

Where can I get free at-home COVID-19 tests now?

Even though free COVID-19 tests from the Post Office are suspended, you still have a few options for finding similar at-home COVID tests for free. First, if you're lucky enough to have private health insurance, you can get eight free COVID tests per person per month. 

In January, the Biden administration announced the requirement for health insurance companies 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.

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

Medicare was not initially included in the plan to distribute free COVID-19 tests, but on April 4, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced that participants with Plan B or those in a Medicare Advantage plan were 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 tests to community health centers and Medicare-certified rural health clinics.

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

For further reading on COVID-19 at-home testing, learn the new COVID testing guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration and how to spot fake 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.