Free COVID tests are ending: Here’s what that means for you

Free COVID tests are ending: Here’s what that means for you

Say goodbye to free coronavirus tests.  

Emergency measures providing complementary coronavirus tests will end for most people this week, when the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration formally runs out Thursday.  

The end of the free tests almost certainly means more people will contract COVID without knowing they have it.  

“We definitely know that when you add a copayment to a medical procedure or test, that utilization goes down. And sometimes, utilization goes down in areas where we care about,” Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told The Hill.

Benjamin said there’s “no question” that utilization of tests will go down once free tests are no longer the norm, though the impact that will have on public health is less clear. 

Free tests still remain for individuals enrolled in some federal health programs, and some private insurers will continue no-cost coverage for tests.

Here’s a glance at how the availability of COVID tests will change going forward:

Private insurance

Throughout the course of the public health emergency, private insurance companies were required to cover COVID testing — both laboratory tests as well as over-the-counter (OTC) — without cost sharing, which Benjamin noted was a popular provision.

Beginning May 12, that requirement no longer stands, and several major insurers have made it clear that they won’t be covering OTC tests any longer.

Cigna released a statement last month stating, “over-the-counter COVID-19 tests will no longer be covered,” and laboratory tests will be subject to cost-sharing.

Aetna, owned by CVS Health, similarly released a statement saying its customers would pay retail price for OTC COVID tests going forward.

Other insurance companies have said they will cover OTC tests in some cases. Kaiser Permanente said it will cover at-home testing at no cost for the next six months, but only in California. 

Outside of California, a spokesperson for the company said it would approach coverage of COVID vaccines, treatments and tests “like any other condition, with applicable plan out-of-pocket costs.”

Federal efforts

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said in April that beneficiaries of Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program will have continued access to both OTC and laboratory testing through September 2024. 

“After that date, coverage of testing may vary by state,” the agency said.

While this does not extend to Medicare Advantage recipients, those who are enrolled in Medicare Part B can continue to receive “appropriate laboratory-based COVID-19 PCR and antigen tests” at no cost when ordered by a provider.

As of publication, the website, where households have intermittently been able to request packs of free at-home tests, is still operational and accepting orders. Several private insurers have pointed to this site as a resource for their customers.

Community centers

In addition to reimbursements and entitlement programs, the federal government supplied community centers with free at-home tests for distribution, though these avenues may be less reliable as supplies dwindle.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said in February that the government “may continue to distribute free COVID-19 tests from the Strategic National Stockpile” depending on the available supply.

During the pandemic, many city governments took to distributing free at-home tests through community centers, libraries, pharmacies and schools. These locations may continue to provide free tests.

“Pending resource availability, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Increasing Community Access to Testing program will continue working to ensure continued equitable access to testing for uninsured individuals and areas of high social vulnerability through pharmacies and community-based sites,” HHS said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *