You Have a Week to Stock Up on Free At-Home COVID-19 Tests

When the COVID-19 public health emergency expires at the end of the day on May 11, many pandemic-era rules and programs will end. Among them is the guarantee that Medicare and private insurers will cover the costs of up to eight at-home COVID-19 tests per person each month, a policy that has been in place since 2022 and helped fuel a rise in at-home diagnoses.

Without a federal requirement, most health insurers are free to make their own decisions about whether to reimburse some or all at-home testing costs moving forward. That means, depending on insurance coverage, some Americans may still be able to get tests for free, while others will have to pay retail prices of roughly $10 per test (or around $20 per box of two, which is how many are sold).

You Have a Week to Stock Up on Free At-Home COVID-19 Tests

Here’s how some major insurers are planning to handle the end of the public health emergency:

  • A representative from Cigna did not respond to TIME’s comment requests by press time. However, information posted on Cigna’s website says it will no longer cover at-home tests starting May 12, 2023.
  • A representative from UnitedHealthcare did not provide a comment before press time, but its website specifies that over-the-counter tests will not be covered after May 11 “unless mandated by state regulatory requirements.” California state law, for example, extends the free testing provision through Nov. 11, 2023.
  • A representative from Aetna declined to comment, but information posted online says it will not cover at-home tests beginning May 12.
  • Local chapters that make up the national Blue Cross Blue Shield Association will reimburse at-home testing costs through May 11, confirmed executive vice president and chief corporate affairs officer Sean Robbins in a statement provided to TIME. After that, Blue Cross Blue Shield plans may implement “reasonable limits on the use of tests.”
  • Kaiser Permanente, which is based in California, will provide up to eight free tests per month through Nov. 11, 2023 to members in that state, except those covered under Medicare Advantage plans. For people outside of California, “coverage depends on state or local mandates [and] in-network and out-of-network coverage for COVID-19 vaccines, testing, and treatment,” a Kaiser Permanente representative said in a statement.
  • A spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said that, once the public health emergency ends, “some Medicare Advantage plans may cover and pay for [over-the-counter] COVID-19 tests as an added benefit.” People who are covered under Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program will be eligible for free tests through September 2024.
  • Even if your health insurer stops covering at-home tests, you may be able to purchase them using funds from a health savings account or flexible spending account. You may also be able to get free kits at your library, health department, or through another community group. And the federal government is still sending free kits to families who have not already claimed their allotted swabs.

    Rapid and PCR testing will continue to be available in pharmacies and doctor’s offices, but consumers may be responsible for some or all of the costs, depending on their insurance.

    The surest way to get free tests? Stock up through your insurance plan before May 12.

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