Personal Finance

At-Home COVID Testing Should Soon Be Free

Though the U.S. economy is in much better shape now than it was earlier in the pandemic, many consumers are still incurring extra costs as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. One such expense is paying for COVID-19 testing.

To be clear, COVID-19 testing has, since the start of the pandemic, been free for everyone at hospitals, urgent care facilities, and pharmacies. But at-home test kits, which can be a more convenient way to test, have not been made available for free. Those kits can be expensive, sometimes costing as much as $40 for a two-pack.

At a time when inflation is wreaking havoc on people’s budgets, shelling out that much for at-home test kits is something many consumers can’t afford. But those kits could, in some cases, be crucial to limiting the spread of COVID-19.

Thankfully, the Biden administration is taking steps to make it easier for Americans to test for COVID-19 in the comfort of their own homes. Soon, those who have private health insurance will be eligible to get reimbursed for the cost of their at-home test kits.

An important step during a raging pandemic

Although COVID-19 vaccines have been widely available to the general public since the spring, cases of the virus continue to rise. At-home testing is a good way to help people from different households gather more safely. It can also be a good way to limit the spread of the virus in schools, workplaces, and other public spaces.

Soon, roughly 150 million Americans with private health insurance (including employer-sponsored plans as well as Affordable Care Act plans) will be eligible to get reimbursed for the cost of at-home testing, making it a more feasible thing to do on a regular basis. And while this benefit doesn’t yet apply to those on Medicare and Medicaid, that could change soon, too.

The one downside is that Americans who purchase at-home testing kits may need to save their receipts, submit them to their insurance companies, and wait to get reimbursed. That could create a paperwork hassle, and it could also mean having to lay out the money for testing kits and wait weeks to get paid back. For those living paycheck to paycheck, that’s a tough thing to do. But still, waiting to get reimbursed is better than not getting reimbursed at all.

How to pay for at-home COVID testing

While at-home COVID-19 test kits will soon be eligible for reimbursement, right now, that setup isn’t yet in place. Cash-strapped consumers who need to purchase those kits immediately may need to charge the expense on their credit cards and pay it off as soon as they can.

That said, there are other options for paying for testing kits. Those who have a flexible spending account can use that money to purchase at-home tests. In fact, that may be a good way to spend down an unused FSA balance with the end of the year approaching.

Those who have money in a health savings account can also use those funds to buy testing kits. HSA funds, however, don’t expire, so people with an HSA shouldn’t necessarily feel pressured to do so before 2021 comes to a close.

Of course, health experts warn that when it comes to COVID-19 testing, laboratory PCR testing is still the gold standard. In many cases, a negative at-home test won’t suffice as proof for travel purposes. But still, those at-home tests can be instrumental in catching cases that would otherwise go unconfirmed. And the fact that those tests will soon be free for those with private health insurance is a real game changer.


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