Policy Works: US Launches At-Home Covid Testing Initiative

By Kimberly Tsoukalas, Lister Hill Center Program Coordinator 

At Home Covid Test

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Health policy can take many forms and impacts multiple parts of the public health sector. From housing reform to addressing nutrition in impoverished communities to climate change, legislation can have widespread impacts on the health of citizens. 

Following rising cases of the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus, President Biden announced a series of executive actions on December 21st to assist hospitals and public health agencies. In addition to mobilizing 1,000 troops with medical experience to be dispersed to hospitals overrun with COVID-19 cases and launching distribution systems for PPE to hospitals, clinics, and the general public, the White House also announced an initiative to provide free at-home antigen testing kits to be delivered through the United States Postal Service

This initiative follows similar actions in the United Kingdom and Canada, where at-home test kits have been available to citizens free of charge for several months, either through mail delivery or at designated pharmacies. Tuesday, January 18th saw the launch of https://www.covidtests.gov/, the official website where US Citizens can request a set of four at-home test kits to be delivered via USPS. While the test kits are estimated to be delivered in late January, registration is open now. The federal government has purchased 1 billion test kits for this initiative, after doubling its original pledge of 500 million. 

In addition to the at-home delivery service, President Biden announced that private insurance companies will be required to reimburse expenses for at-home test kits purchased at local pharmacies. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, private insurance companies are required to reimburse over-the-counter COVID-19 tests purchased on or after January 15, 2022 at a cost of up to $12 per test. Health insurance providers must reimburse the cost of up to 8 at-home test kits per month, per person enrolled. According to Blue Cross Blue Shield Alabama, the largest health insurance provider in the state, “members who purchase a test kit should file a claim to be reimbursed. Claims can be filed electronically by logging in to your account or by submitting a Medical Expense Claim Form along with the test kit receipt.” A full list of reimbursable kits can be found on the FDA’s website. 

The Centers for Disease Control lists at-home testing as one of the key measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19. While at-home tests have a higher chance at a false-negative than a PCR test, it is suggested to utilize them prior to indoor social gatherings and other close-contact situations where the virus might be transmitted. According to the CDC, “a negative self-test result means that the test did not detect the virus and you may not have an infection, but it does not rule out infection. Repeating the test within a few days, with at least 24 hours between tests, will increase the confidence that you are not infected.” 

Want to register for your at-home test kits? It’s a simple, two-step process. 

Visit https://www.covidtests.gov

Select “Order Free At-Home Tests” which will direct you to the official page on the USPS website. 

Fill in the information as needed. Tests are estimated to ship starting in late January.