In this post-pandemic world, squirreling away COVID-19 tests and masks is as commonplace and reflexive as stocking up on tissues or cold meds.
But if you missed your chance to get free tests from the national stockpile before it shut down in early September or you need more, there are still ways you can get at-home COVID-19 tests for free.
5 Ways to Save Money on At-Home COVID-19 Tests
Peeked at your at-home testing supply and noticed it’s a little low? Don’t worry. Because if you’re paying for rapid antigen tests, you’re doing it wrong.
Here are five ways to snag free at-home COVID-19 tests.
- Don’t throw away your expired tests just yet.
- Private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid are still required to cover at-home COVID tests.
- Check to see if you can use FSA or HSA funds to buy tests.
- See if your state offers free rapid antigen tests.
- Go to an in-person COVID-19 testing location near you.
1. Don’t Throw Away Your Expired Tests Just Yet
Yes, at-home COVID-19 tests have expiration dates. But to be clear, these over-the-counter tests were hustled through the emergency process at the FDA and rubber stamped with a standard four- to six-month expiration date.
Manufacturers are now submitting new data that confirm a longer shelf life spanning anywhere from 12 to 18 months.
The best way to determine if expired at-home COVID-19 tests are still effective is to visit an official government page like the FDA’s At Home OTC COVID-19 Diagnostic Tests database and search by manufacturer. You may also need the lot number from the test package to verify the extended expiration date.
2. Private Insurance, Medicare and Medicaid Still Cover At-Home Tests
If you have private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid, these insurers are still required by federal law to cover up to eight at-home COVID-19 tests per person per month as part of your healthcare coverage.
There are a few ways insurers are doing this. Some cover the tests at participating pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS. Other plans require you to submit receipts for reimbursement.
3. Check to See If You Can Use FSA or HSA funds on COVID-19 Tests
It’s tempting to use the rest of your FSA funds on at-home COVID-19 tests. Flexible spending account and health savings account funds can typically be used on qualified medical, dental or health-related expenses.
Before you drain the rest of your FSA funds this year, double-check that at-home COVID-19 tests qualify. Technically, FSA and HSA funds are only for expenses not covered by your health insurance. Since most insurers are required to cover COVID tests, you should check to make sure this cost won’t get bounced back to you.
4. See If Your State Offers Free Rapid Antigen Tests
Now that the national stockpile is depleted, some states are stepping up to provide free at-home COVID-19 tests to residents. Maine, Minnesota, and several other states are working directly with test manufacturers to coordinate this effort.
Go to Say Yes! To Covid Test website or Project ACT and enter your zip code to discover if free self-tests are available in your community.
5. Go to an In-Person COVID Testing Location Near You
If all else fails, there are low or no-cost COVID testing centers available across the country. Some COVID-19 testing sites will even hand out a home test kit at self-serve kiosks.
Both federal, state and county governments are helping to fund free testing sites and other testing resources at local health departments, pharmacies and clinics. You can search the CDC’s database of free COVID-19 testing locations here.
Should You Stockpile At-Home COVID Tests?
Before you get more free at-home COVID-19 tests, it’s worth asking if you should have a stockpile in your medicine cabinet. And the answer? It depends.
Averaging anywhere from $8 to $10 per test, at-home COVID tests aren’t cheap. But the CDC and HHS recommend keeping several on hand. If you’re exposed, you’ll have a quick and easy way to determine if you or others in your family need to isolate. Because you can test negative for some time before you test positive, it’s recommended to test at least twice within 48 hours.
Test manufacturers are also warning that they’ve ramped down production due to waning demand and are making about half the number of tests as they were in early 2022. Test supplies could become a bottleneck if Americans face another surge this winter.
However, stockpiling dozens of free tests can backfire. Rapid antigen tests will expire — even with the FDA-approved extensions. A good rule of thumb is to have enough at-home COVID-19 tests that you could test every member of your household at least twice.
More Free Tests Might Be on the Way
As winter approaches, the White House is renewing its effort to replenish the national stockpile. If Congress approves another round of funding, free COVID tests — courtesy of the United States government — could be delivered to your doorstep in time for the holidays.
Kaz Weida is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder
[email protected] (Kaz Weida)