1/4/23 Update: free mail delivery orders have resumed on the USPS COVID test order website and deliveries restarted the week of 12/19/22. There is a limit of one order per residential address. Each order will include 4 rapid antigen COVID-19 tests (visit the COVID tests website for more details on this specific test). The Biden administration was able to reappropriate previous COVID funds and stockpiled tests for this new round of delivery, but it’s not clear how many tests have been allocated or how long this round of free tests will last. Before placing new orders, look into shelf-life extensions on any old kits you still have to see if they are still viable (more info. below).
With U.S. government funding for the fight against COVID-19 recently running dry, there has been a lot of misinformation and confusion out there regarding whether COVID tests are still free, so I wanted to put in some definitive research for everyone as we head back into cold, flu, and now “COVID season” this fall and winter. I’ll cover COVID tests here and free COVID vaccines in an upcoming sister-article. Also, check out my article on how to a get cheap or free flu shot as the flu is having a resurgence.
Are COVID Tests Still Free?
The answer: mostly “yes”. You may remember that in early 2022, the U.S. government organized 3 ways that you could get free COVID tests:
- Rapid at-home tests shipped from the USPS (initially 4 tests, then a 2nd order of 4 tests, then a 3rd order of 8 tests, and then a 4th order of 4 additional tests)
- Rapid at-home tests reimbursed from your insurer
- Rapid or PCR tests at over 20,000 testing sites
Funding was completely depleted for one of these 3 free COVID testing options (USPS shipping was recently renewed), while the other 2 are (as of right now) still available, but mostly to those with health insurance. All the details can be found below.
Free At-Home COVID Tests From the USPS Are Still Temporarily Available
If you have enjoyed the no-hassle free at-home COVID test deliveries from the USPS, apparently you are not alone. The program started by delivering 4 tests per residential address, added a 2nd round of 4 more tests, and then added a 3rd round of 8 more tests. As of the end of August the USPS had shipped a total of over 600 million COVID tests and funding for the at-home delivery program has been entirely depleted, resulting in test ordering on the USPS COVID test site being suspended.
Without new funding, it appears that enough previous funds/kits were available to at least temporarily restore a 4th round of mail test orders restarting 12/15/22. It is not clear how long this round of ordering will last.
Can you Use Expired COVID Tests? Most At-Home COVID Test Expiration Dates Have Been Extended
The free COVID test you are looking for may be the one you already have. The FDA has been granting shelf-life extensions for a number of at-home COVID tests beyond the original expiration dates listed on the packaging, including the iHealth, QuickVue, and Abbott BinaxNow kits that were sent by the USPS. In some cases, the extensions have been up to 24 months. So, if you stockpiled a number of tests from the USPS, they may still be useable. Check out the linked-to list above for more details.
How to Still Get Free COVID Tests if You Have Already Exhausted USPS Mail Orders
If you don’t have any more COVID tests stockpiled from mail deliveries, you’re left with 2 ways that you could still effectively get free COVID tests (for now). Spoiler: you will likely need to have health insurance to take advantage, unless a state, county, or local health department have allocated funding for free tests. Here’s how to potentially still get free COVID tests:
1. Get Reimbursed by Your Health Insurer for At-Home COVID Testing
- Test Type: rapid antigen, at-home self tests (no drop off)
- Health Insurance Status Requirement: insured individuals only
- Quantity: up to 8 tests per insured person, per month (e.g. 3 insured persons x 8 tests = 24 tests per month)
- How to Get a Free COVID Test: buy the over-the-counter (OTC) COVID tests anywhere that sells them (e.g. local pharmacy or other retailer). Insurers are urged to set up networks where you won’t have to pay out-of-pocket. Hold on to your receipt, and check with your insurer on their reimbursement process. Insurers are required to reimburse the full amount, up to $12 per test (so try to stay under that price, which is doable). Amazon has the same FDA-approved iHealth, QuickVue, and Abbott BinaxNow tests that the USPS sent out this year – all available for purchase for less than $12 each, so you may be able to get a full reimbursement.
- How to Get Reimbursed for At-Home COVID Tests: see this guide. Your health insurer should have more info.
2. Get a Free Rapid or PCR COVID Test at Over 20,000 Testing Sites
- Test Type: rapid antigen or PCR tests at a testing site
- Length of Time for Test Results: 30 minutes (rapid antigen) or up to 24 hours (PCR)
- Health Insurance Status Requirement: dependent on insurer. For example, Walgreens states: “You will not have out-of-pocket costs if you meet the criteria for no-cost testing through your insurance or a government-funded program. You should contact your insurer before scheduling to confirm the test meets coverage criteria.”
- Quantity: check with your insurer
- How to Get a Free COVID test: start here to see what testing sites may be available in your state. National testing site options include:
- CVS Health
- Local independent pharmacies (in partnership with Health Mart, eTrueNorth, and TOPCO)
- Rite Aid
- Walmart via Quest Diagnostics (availability limited)
- At a local health center near you – you may be able to still find free COVID tests here, even if uninsured, so call around.
- Your state or county health department – you may be able to still find free COVID tests here, even if uninsured, so call around.
Stay healthy out there.