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We’ve all had a lot to worry about during the coronavirus pandemic. Even if no one you know got sick, you’ve likely dealt with major life shifts, like being in lockdown, working from home, or homeschooling kids.
Paying for a coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) test that you need shouldn’t be one of those worries, regardless of your health insurance situation. Here’s what you need to know about the costs associated with getting tested, and more about at-home COVID-19 testing kits.
- According to the CARES Act passed by the US Congress in 2020, if your healthcare provider decides you need a COVID-19 test, it should be free, whether or not you have health insurance.
- There are some restrictions to this rule, though; The test must be from an approved healthcare facility or pharmacy and that the type of test you’re getting is approved by the FDA.
- If your healthcare provider decides you need another COVID-19 test in the future, this should also be at no cost to you; there’s no limit to the number of necessary tests that can be covered for each person.
- Prescription at-home tests generally require payment upfront and cost $100-150, for which you will be reimbursed later.
- The first over-the-counter at-home COVID-19 test will be available soon and will cost around $30.
How much does it cost to get tested?
If a healthcare provider decides you need a COVID-19 test, it should be free whether or not you have health insurance. Medically necessary tests (as in those ordered by a healthcare professional) have to be covered by insurance or be free for those without it, per the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and CARES Act passed by Congress in 2020 (CMS, 2020).
Free means absolutely no out-of-pocket costs, according to these acts. That means no copay or deductible. Insurance companies like UnitedHealthcare, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Aetna reiterate this on their websites (UnitedHealthcare, n.d.; BCBSA, 2020; Aetna, n.d.). If a healthcare provider decides that you need another test at a future date, it should also be covered at no cost to you (CMS, 2020).
But this doesn’t mean you won’t get a bill for your COVID-19 test. If you get a bill and know your test was ordered by a healthcare provider, contact your insurance company, Medicaid, or Medicare to resolve the mistake. One woman was charged a $50 copay for her test, but the fee was reimbursed after she brought up the issue to her insurance provider (Kliff, 2020).
You may also need to pay for certain services a healthcare provider considers necessary before getting tested for COVID-19. For example, you may need a test for other upper respiratory infections first, which unfortunately aren’t covered by the CARES Act. If that’s the case, your insurer would likely cover part of the costs associated with non-COVID-19 tests. How much is covered and the bill you’re left with depends on your insurance company and health insurance plan.
Your COVID-19 test also isn’t free if it’s required by anyone other than a healthcare provider. If, for example, your employer requires you to get a COVID-19 test before returning to work, it isn’t covered by the FFCRA (CMS, 2020). How much you pay for a test in this situation again depends on your health insurance provider and individual plan.
You can use this tool to find a testing site near you that provides access to free testing (HRSA, 2020). COVID-19 tests that are covered by the FFCRA are also available at select pharmacies, including CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, and Walmart (HHS, 2020).
At-home COVID-19 testing kits
For people with mild symptoms or who can’t get to a testing facility, at-home tests are an exciting option that may soon be widely available. One great thing about all at-home test kits is that you can collect the sample yourself at home. Depending on the test, your sample can either be analyzed at home, too, or may need to be sent out to a lab for analysis (CDC, 2021).
Several companies have made at-home test kits and at-home collection kits available, but they’re not all covered by the FFCRA. If you want to bill one of these tests to your insurance, you’ll need to choose one that’s been given Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA (CMS, 2020). Tests that have been given this approval include:
- Let’s Get Checked
- P23 Labs
- Picture by Fulgent Genetics
- Pixel by LabCorp
Do I need a prescription to get an at-home testing kit?
Many of these at-home kits require a prescription. Some companies have telecare medical professionals that ask you about your medical history and symptoms. If they determine that you’re eligible for the test, they can issue a prescription for it. Don’t worry, though—you’re not out of options if you can’t get a prescription.
How much do at-home tests cost?
Many at-home COVID-19 tests require payment upfront, which means you’d need to file for reimbursement with your insurance provider. On average, ordering prescription tests online costs between $100 and $150. One exception is the LabCorp Pixel COVID-19 test. When ordering it online, you can choose to have the company bill your insurance, or the government can assist those who are uninsured (LabCorps, 2021).
If you’re not eligible to have your COVID-19 test covered, but still want to order an at-home kit, you’re not out of options. The FDA approved the first over-the-counter at-home COVID-19 test, Ellume, in December of 2020 (FDA, 2020). This test will be available to purchase at drug stores, pharmacies, and online, and should cost around $30 (NIH, 2020).
When should I get tested?
If you’re currently experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, have been in close contact (within six feet for 15 minutes or more) to someone with COVID-19, or if a healthcare provider tells you to do so, you should get tested.
People who have been in situations where they couldn’t socially distance, or who took part in activities that put them at a higher risk of COVID-19 (like travel, large get-togethers, or crowded indoor settings) should also get a test done (CDC, 2020).
If you meet any of these criteria, contact a healthcare professional, local urgent care center, or your state’s health department about what to do next in order to get tested (CDC, 2020).
You can also use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) self-checker tool if you’re unsure about getting tested (CDC, 2020). In addition, the government has created a tool that finds testing locations near you that are covered by the FFRCA and CARES act (HRSA, 2020). Free testing is also available at select pharmacies, including CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, and Walmart (HHS, 2020). Many of these pharmacies offer online screening tools to also help you figure out whether you’re eligible for a COVID-19 test before you book an appointment.