By Crystal Baldwin
First in a Two-Part Series on Free COVID-19 Test Kits
On Christmas day, I found out I was a close contact to someone who had tested positive for COVID-19. Testing sites were closed for the holidays, and I hadn’t yet purchased any rainy day rapid COVID test kits. So, I did what many of you have had to, I hunkered down and waited until I was able to schedule a PCR test.
More than a month later now, I have been obtaining test kits from anywhere humanly possible; but not from scammers. I’ll admit, it’s been tricky figuring out not only which tests have FDA clearance, but also, how to obtain free test kits. I was dismayed when I called pharmacies and was provided the same message: No test kits in stock. I decided not to search the internet, predicting it would be a fruitless effort ripe with fake kits and hiked prices and store fronts offering freebies—which I knew to be impossible at the time—while requiring a steep payment for shipping and handling.
Now that the holiday demand surge has passed, there are ways to obtain free test kits. Just last week, I ordered from COVIDtests.gov and I managed to be one of the lucky firsts to have an order filled by SayYesCOVIDhomeTest.org. After providing my name, delivery address and email, they promised to send four test kits to my house: free of charge. And they did. The kits arrived in an Amazon smile box. While their site currently says they are out of stock, folks should check back as test kits will become available again for distribution. I submitted a request to COVIDtests.gov, too. The site redirected me to the US Postal Service site, USPS.com, where I merrily provided my information for my kits to be mailed to me when they are available.
I have not yet obtained a test kit from the pharmacy. However, I am looking forward to when the stores are well-stocked so that I can purchase them as needed and submit a request for reimbursement to my health insurance provider.
At-home tests kits are now covered by private health insurance.
Private health insurance: Each person covered by the plan can get free COVID-19 test kits by submitting a request for reimbursement claim form—up to eight test kits per month for tests purchased since December 2021.
At this time, obtaining at-home rapid COVID-19 test kits through public health insurance coverage, such as Medicare and Medicaid, is managed differently:
Medicaid: Programs are required to cover FDA-authorized at-home COVID-19 tests purchased at the pharmacy counter with a valid prescription. Note that Vermont’s Commissioner of Health, Dr. Mark Levine issued a standing order that may be used by Vermont residents as a prescription or third-party prescription to obtain COVID-19 At-Home Antigen Test Kits (dfr.vermont.gov, cms.gov).
Medicare: While at-home antigen test kits cannot currently be purchased and reimbursed by Medicare, COVID-19 diagnostic tests ordered by an authorized health care professional and performed by a laboratory are.
- Further, those with Medicare coverage can seek to obtain free at-home test kits directly from community health centers and Medicare-certified health clinics (cms.gov). Medicare Advantage plans may offer additional coverage and payment.
When purchasing from the pharmacy, I plan to check on availability when I happen to be in the store, rather than calling and occupying their phone line while they are short-staffed.
I’ll keep my eyes and ears open for notices about free test kit availability from trusted sources, like the Vermont Department of Health, Community Health Centers, schools, employers and local government, while keeping in mind that free PCR testing remains an option throughout the state.
You Can Get Free COVID-19 Test Kits!
Eventually, there will be enough test kits to supply all the folks who want and need them. If you are ever curious about the latest updates on COVID-19 test kit availability and testing sites, check in directly with the Vermont Department of Health.
Be well. Together, we will get through this.
Resources: Fact Sheet: The Biden Administration to Begin Distributing At-Home, Rapid COVID-19 Tests to Americans for Free, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Federal Trade Commission, Food and Drug Administration, HRSA Data Warehouse, Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, Vermont Department of Health