Those Free At-Home COVID Tests Won’t Be Free After May 11

A mother performs a covid test on her daughter.
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News flash: You’re running out of time to stock up on free at-home COVID tests.

You have until May 11. That’s when the COVID-19 pandemic will no longer be considered a national emergency, according to Congress and the Biden administration.

That means the federal government will no longer be footing the bill for free COVID tests. But you still have time to pick up a bunch of free over-the-counter tests before then.

And if you think you’ll never need another COVID test, think again: Although the pandemic isn’t nearly as bad as it used to be, it’s a fact that people are still getting COVID, and being hospitalized because of COVID, and hundreds of Americans are still dying of COVID every single month — most of them 65 and over.

It’s just not in the news anymore, that’s all.

Where and How to Get Free COVID Tests

Every household in the U.S. is eligible to order four free at-home COVID-⁠19 tests through this federal website.

Also, if you have private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid, they’re required by federal law to cover up to eight at-home COVID-19 tests per person per month — until May 11, anyway.

Remember, that’s eight tests per person. If there’s more than one person on your insurance plan, you’re eligible to receive more free tests.

Different insurers are going about this in different ways. Some plans cover the cost of the tests at participating pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS. Other plans require you to submit your receipts for reimbursement.

“Most people with a health plan can go online or to a pharmacy or store to purchase an at-home over-the-counter COVID-19 diagnostic test… at no cost, either through reimbursement or free of charge through their insurance,” says the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

“The test will either be free directly at the point of sale, if your health plan provides for direct coverage, or by reimbursement if you are charged for your test. Be sure to keep your receipt if you need to submit a claim to your insurance company for reimbursement.”

Financially speaking, it’s totally worth grabbing some free tests for yourself or your family. A two-pack of at-home COVID tests typically costs more than $20. You’re going to be kicking yourself if you have to buy them at full price after May 11.

What Happens After May 11?

That’s a good question! We’re wondering the same thing.

Some private insurers may continue to cover some of the cost of at-home COVID tests, even though it won’t be a nationwide mandate anymore, The Associated Press reports. Also, some state and local governments may keep distributing free tests through clinics and community centers and such.

You’ll want to go online to the Say Yes! To Covid Test website or Project ACT and enter your ZIP code to see if free tests are available in your community.

It’s best not to count on government help, though. That’s the whole point of declaring that COVID isn’t a national public health emergency anymore.

Pharmacies and labs will still offer COVID testing. You’ll just have to pay for it.

Americans who are enrolled in Medicaid, a government health care program for low-income people, will be eligible to receive free at-home tests until September 2024.

And COVID vaccines will remain free because the federal government is still paying for them — for now.

Your Expired COVID Tests May Not Be Expired

If you already have a stockpile of at-home COVID tests, you might want to check the expiration date. It says on the packaging that these tests are only good for four to six months.

However, your tests might still be good even if the label says they’re expired. After further testing, manufacturers have submitted new data confirming a longer shelf life spanning anywhere from 12 to 18 months.

The best way to determine if expired at-home COVID tests are still effective is to go online to this Food and Drug Administration database and search by manufacturer. You may also need the lot number from the package to verify the extended expiration date.

Why Test Yourself Anyway?

Everyone who’s ever taken an at-home COVID test knows it isn’t fun. You have to stick the thing way up your nose. It’s uncomfortable. Why bother?

It turns out that catching COVID early is important for treatment. Medical treatments for high-risk COVID patients, like Paxlovid, must be taken within the first few days of symptoms to be effective. If you wait too long, you might not be eligible for such treatments.

Is COVID Even a Thing Anymore?

It’s true that the worst of the pandemic is behind us. Workers are returning to offices. Most people have stopped wearing masks in public.

According to the World Health Organization, most of the global population has some immunity to COVID-19 through vaccination or infection or both.

But that doesn’t mean COVID is gone. For example, as of mid-April 2023, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counted:

  • Nearly 14,500 new cases of COVID in the U.S. per week
  • Nearly 1,900 hospitalizations per week
  • And nearly 200 COVID-related deaths per week

Older adults are most at risk. About 90% of COVID-19 deaths these days are among people age 65 and older, according to CDC data. Nearly all the deaths are people who are 50 and older. Only a handful of young Americans are dying of COVID each month.

So you have until May 11 to stock up on free at-home COVID tests.

Tick tock, time is running out.

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.