Antigen tests lined up like dominos, about to topple over.
Illustration: PGN

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What you need to know

  • The government’s mail-order COVID-19 test-at-home program is back. Every U.S. household can once again order four free at-home COVID-19 tests.
  • If you have private insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid, you can get at least eight free at-home tests every calendar month. 
  • If you don’t have an insurance plan, you can access free or low-cost tests by visiting a community health center or certain pharmacies.

Frequent COVID-19 testing, especially around holiday gatherings, will be crucial to limiting transmission of the virus in the coming months. The federal government restarted its mail-order COVID-19 test-at-home program on December 15, giving every U.S. household the chance to order four free at-home tests. Besides this option, there are several other ways for individuals to access free or low-cost tests, with or without insurance.

How to access free tests with insurance

People with insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid, can get at least eight over-the-counter at-home tests for free every calendar month. Be sure to have your insurance card ready at checkout or keep the receipt if you need to submit a reimbursement claim. 

For people with private insurance, your insurer is required to pay for eight at-home tests every month for each person enrolled in the plan at a rate of up to $12 per test. Depending on where you purchase the tests, they will be free either at the point of sale or by reimbursement. Call your insurer to check if it has a network of pharmacies and retailers that allow you to get tests free at the point of sale.

People with Medicare Part B can also get eight free at-home tests every month, but they must be purchased from one of the program’s participating pharmacies. People with Medicaid or CHIP coverage get free at-home tests without cost-sharing in accordance with the American Rescue Plan Act. Coverage rules may vary by state so contact your state Medicaid or CHIP agency for more information.

Some insurers may allow you to order tests directly through their website or through the CVS, Walgreens, or Rite Aid websites.

How to access free tests without insurance

If you don’t have an insurance plan, you can still access free or low-cost tests by visiting a community health center or certain pharmacies. 

In January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it would provide up to 50 million at-home tests to community health centers and Medicare-certified health clinics nationwide for free distribution to the public. HHS also established more than 10,000 free community-based pharmacy testing sites around the country. 

Visit this page to find your state’s free or low-cost testing sites and use this locator to find additional community health centers near you. Health centers provide COVID-19 testing services to individuals regardless of their ability to pay. Call ahead to make an appointment and check for availability of free or low-cost tests.

How to check if an at-home COVID-19 test is expired

Expired at-home COVID-19 tests can lead to inaccurate or invalid test results. Before you take an at-home test, look for its expiration date, which will be printed in year-month-day format on the test kit box, sometimes next to a small hourglass symbol. You should also check the chart on this page to see if the FDA extended your test kit’s expiration date. When checking for updated expiration dates, you may have to identify the test kit’s batch number, a serial code that will be next to a rectangular symbol with “LOT” inside.