After May 11, COVID tests and vaccines may no longer be free for some Americans.
May 11 marks the official end of the COVID-19 public health emergency in the US. After Thursday, the federal government will no longer purchase COVID tests and vaccines to give away free to Americans.
Post-emergency, some services provided by the federal government will now fall to American citizens or their health insurance companies, and the lack of budgeted funds could mean the end of free COVID-19 tests.
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In 2022, the US Postal Service delivered millions of free COVID-19 tests -- up to 16 tests per household -- but the program was halted abruptly in Sept. 2022 due to lack of funding. A smaller version of the program was launched again in Dec. 2022 and is still active with no scheduled conclusion, though the quick shutdown last fall suggests its end could arrive at any time.
Below, find out how to request free COVID-19 tests from USPS, track your order and find other places to get free COVID test kits.
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In January 2022, 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. The latest round of shipments also includes four COVID tests.
Unlike some complicated government applications, ordering free tests from the Postal Service is simple. It takes less than two minutes to complete a short form asking for your name and mailing address, and the tests ship in about a week or two. Americans without internet access or those who have trouble ordering online can request tests using a toll-free phone number -- 800-232-0233.
You only need to provide the US Postal Service with a few bits of information to get your free test kits. You won't be asked to provide any credit or debit card details, as both the tests and the shipping are free. Here's how to get your free test kits.
1. Visit special.USPS.com/testkits. You can also get there via covidtests.gov.
2. Enter your contact details and shipping information.
3. Click Check Out Now.
4. Verify that your information is correct and select Place My Order.
All orders will be shipped via First Class Package Service.
People who can't access the website or who have trouble ordering online can call 800-232-0233 to order their free tests.
Tests are typically sent out within seven to 12 days of an order being successfully placed and are delivered by the USPS within one to three days of shipping.
Once you place your order, you should receive a confirmation email. When your package ships, you'll receive email notifications providing you with shipping updates, including a tracking number and estimated delivery date. Note that for the third round, you'll receive two packages that'll likely arrive on different days, so look for two confirmation emails with your tracking numbers.
Once you receive it, you can either click the tracking link or copy and paste the tracking number into the Postal Service's website's tracker.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, manufacturers have ensured that the tests remain stable at various temperatures, "including shipping during the summer in very hot regions and in the winter in very cold regions."
But a test may be damaged by being left outdoors in freezing temperatures or being used immediately after being brought inside from freezing temperatures.
The ideal temperature to store rapid antigen COVID-19 test kits is between 59 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
Along with the four free tests from the Postal Service, 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 another eight free tests per person per month, but that's only guaranteed until May 11, 2023. After that date, your health insurance will determine how much you need to pay for COVID tests.
Both Walgreens and CVS currently allow customers with insurance cards to order COVID-19 tests for free on their websites, but according to Walgreens, that service will end on May 11.
Medicare was not initially included in the plan to distribute free COVID-19 tests, but in April 2022 the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced that participants with Plan B or those enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans were eligible to receive eight free tests a month. The monthly free tests for Medicare Plan B participants will end on May 11.
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.
It's not yet clear when those free COVID tests will run out, but for now you can still search for local health centers or clinics with free COVID tests on the HHS website.
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