Federal free at-home COVID test program ending, how to get more for free

The federal government's program providing free at-home COVID testing kits will end, at least temporarily, Sept. 2.

A statement on the program's website said the decision comes down to funding.

"Ordering through this program will be suspended on Friday, Sept. 2 because Congress hasn’t provided additional funding to replenish the nation’s stockpile of tests," the website said.

The timing of this decision has some health experts concerned. On Thursday, Sept. 1, students, teachers and staff head back to school in districts across the state, including in Brown Deer. One expert expects another spike in transmission, underscoring the need for testing.

That's why Wisconsin health officials want you to know you can still get a free test somewhere else.


First announced in January, the direct-to-consumer program initially allowed each household to order four kits shipped at no cost to the consumer through the U.S. Postal Service. Delivered to your door and at no cost, the program was built on convenience.

"Testing is an important tool for people and for communities," said Ajay Sethi, UW-Madison professor.

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In May, the White House announced it delivered around 350 million tests to 70 million households. Despite that demand, the White House warned the size of its investment was in danger due to the absence of continued funding.

"Due to Congress’s failure to provide additional funding for the nation’s COVID-19 response, the Administration cannot continue making the types of federal investments needed to sustain domestic testing manufacturing capacity, and this may jeopardize the federal government’s ability to provide free tests moving forward," a White House statement said. "Congress must step up and act as well."

Sethi said the decision to end the federal program comes at a troubling time.

"Activities are going to move indoors, be more crowded, and like we see with all sorts of respiratory bugs like flu and other diseases, we'll see an uptick," said Sethi.

Other options

Health experts and state agencies are stressing the fact there are still free tests available, you just have to go through your insurance.

"You can actually get coverage for those over-the-counter at-home tests," said Rachel Cissne Carabell, Office of the Commissioner on Insurance.

If you have private insurance or a group health plan, you can get insurance coverage for up to eight tests per person per month. A family of four can get up to 32 tests a month covered. 

In January, the federal government began requiring insurance companies to cover the cost of at-home tests, incentivizing insurers to set up networks of preferred pharmacies and retailers, so consumers can get their tests covered up-front, instead of keeping the receipt and submitting a claim later for reimbursement.

For consumers who can’t visit a preferred pharmacy or retailer, insurers are posting reimbursement forms on their websites.

"In that case, it's really, really important that people keep their receipts when they go out and they buy those tests and make sure that they have those available to submit them for reimbursement," said Cissne Carabell. 

If an at-home test costs more than $12, the consumer may have to pay the difference, depending on their insurance plan. Tests bought prior to Jan. 15, 2022 are not eligible for reimbursement.

Those on Medicare should go through a drive-thru or walk-in site for a free test.

Cissne Carabell's advice is to check with your insurance provider right away.

"Having that information upfront certainly can be helpful rather than trying to figure that all out when you're suffering symptoms," she said.

Sethi said you can also check with your employer, public health departments and even friends if you need a test, but he said he's worried about the unemployed and uninsured when this program is paused.