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White House Announces Plans to Distribute Home COVID Tests

January 14, 2022 by Dan McCue
President Joe Biden speaks about the government's COVID-19 response, in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON — Beginning Jan. 19, Americans will be able to order free at-home COVID-19 tests online from the federal government, a senior White House official announced Friday afternoon.

In the early going of the new program, individuals will be limited to four free tests per residential address.

Tests requested through COVIDtests.gov will typically ship within seven to 12 days of ordering, the official said.

To ensure equity and access for all Americans, the administration will also launch a call line to help those unable to access the website to place orders.

In addition, the White House said it will work with national and local community-based organizations to support the nation’s hardest-hit and highest-risk communities in requesting tests.

Friday’s announcement fulfills a promise President Biden made in December, when he said his administration would purchase 500 million rapid at-home coronavirus tests and distribute them to Americans free of charge.

Youngstown City Health Department worker Faith Terreri grabs two at-home COVID-19 test kits to be handed out during a distribution event, Dec. 30, 2021, in Youngstown, Ohio. (AP Photo/David Dermer, File)

Just yesterday, Biden announced his intent to purchase an additional 500 million tests, bringing the total to 1 billion.

Though the administration was happy to herald the new test distribution initiative, officials also took pains to remind the public many other options still exist for Americans to get tested for COVID-19.

There are now over 20,000 free testing sites across the nation, including four times as many pharmacies participating in the federal pharmacy free testing program as there were in January 2021.

At the same time, millions of free, at-home COVID-19 tests have been delivered to thousands of community health centers and rural health clinics to distribute to their patients, the White House said. 

In addition, the administration has provided schools with $10 billion in American Rescue Plan funding to get tests to K-12 school districts, and dedicated another $6 billion in ARP funding to cover free testing for uninsured individuals. It has also provided support for testing in correctional facilities, shelters for people experiencing homelessness and mental health facilities.

Since January 2021, the administration has taken significant action to dramatically increase the nation’s overall COVID-19 testing supply, the senior administration official said.

“This comprehensive approach has produced important results: Today, there are nine at-home, rapid tests on the market in the U.S. — up from zero when the president took office,” the official said. “In December, there were more than 300 million at-home, rapid tests available in the U.S. market, up from 24 million in August — a more than 10-fold rise.

“This month, the number of at-home, rapid tests available to the U.S. market will rise to 375 million, in addition to the free tests available through COVIDtests.gov,” the official said.

The Department of Defense, in coordination with the Department of Health and Human Services, has already awarded several of the contracts that will result from this process — with over 420 million tests already under contract. 

To ensure timely distribution and delivery, the administration will partner with the United States Postal Service to package and deliver tests to Americans that want them.

The administration also announced that as of Jan. 15, private insurance companies will be required to cover at-home COVID-19 tests. 

This means consumers with private health insurance coverage will be able to get these tests for free. Insurance companies and health plans are required to cover eight free, at-home tests per covered individual per month. 

That means a family of four, all on the same plan, would be able to get 32 of these tests covered by their health plan per month. As part of the requirement, the administration is incentivizing plans and insurers to allow people to get these tests directly through preferred pharmacies or retailers with no out-of-pocket costs, with the plan or insurer covering the cost upfront, eliminating the need for people to submit reimbursement claims.

Making More Tests Available to Schools 

On Wednesday, the administration took new actions to increase access to COVID-19 testing in schools. 

This included increasing the number of COVID-19 tests available to schools by 10 million per month to help schools safely remain open and implement screening, testing and test-to-stay programs.

The initiative is intended to allow schools to double the volume of testing they were performing in November 2021 and support free testing access for students, school staff and families through federal testing sites. 

These actions build on the federal government’s having already provided states $10 billion in American Rescue Plan funding to support COVID-19 screening and testing for teachers, staff and students, and $130 billion in American Rescue Plan funding that schools can use on COVID-19 testing. 

In addition to these resources, at the president’s direction, FEMA has been providing states, tribes and territories 100% federal reimbursement to support COVID-19 testing, including at schools.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at-home testing when experiencing COVID-19 systems including fever, cough, sore throat, respiratory symptoms and muscle aches, five days after a potential COVID-19 exposure, or as part of test-to-stay protocols in schools and workplaces.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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