SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – New federal rules take effect Saturday that will allow people to get at-home COVID-19 tests covered by their health insurance, but getting these tests for free will take some work on your part.
Under the new requirements, private health insurers must pay for up to eight at-home tests per person per month. That’s 32 rapid tests per month for a family of four on the same plan.
The rules apply to tests purchased on or after Saturday, Jan. 15. You cannot get reimbursed for rapid tests purchased previously.
Individuals should first check with their health insurance company to see if it has established a “preferred provider” location, like an in-network pharmacy. At these places, customers should be able to flash an insurance card and pay nothing.
Just one problem: “We have not found any insurer so far that has already set up these preferred provider agreements for rapid tests,” said Krutika Amin, a health policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Health insurers and pharmacies are still scrambling to finalize the new systems needed to cover these over-the-counter tests. The White House announced the new policy on Monday, just five days before it took effect.
Some insurance companies say it will take weeks before customers can go into a pharmacy and pick up a rapid test for nothing out of pocket.
For now, you’ll have to pay for the test upfront and submit the receipt to your insurance company later for reimbursement.
The new policy allows people to buy tests in-person or online and get reimbursed later, but keep an eye on the price. Insurance companies are only required to reimburse you $12 per test or $24 for a box of two.
If you pay more, you’ll be on the hook for the difference, Amin said. “$49.99 is the top price [for one rapid test] that we found. The insurance company will only reimburse $12 of the $49.99,” she said.
Since the process is new to insurance companies, she said people should expect to wait a while for that reimbursement check. Processing times can vary, but it could take weeks or months.
The new policy only applies to private health insurance, not government-sponsored insurance like Medicare. Individuals on Medicare should check with community health centers for a free rapid test.
On Friday, the White House announced that all Americans would be able to order up to four rapid tests through a new government website next week, whether or not they have health insurance.
The website, covidtests.gov, will begin accepting orders on Wednesday.
There will be no charge for shipping and no credit card required. The tests will ship 7 to 12 days after someone places an order, the White House said.
Supplies of rapid tests continue to be tight. The Kaiser Family Foundation surveyed six large retailers from Jan. 3 to Jan. 10. They found the retailers had rapid tests in stock just 9 percent of the time.
Target, CVS, and Walgreens had no tests at all during the 8-day span.