As of May 11, the COVID-19 pandemic will no longer be considered a national or public health emergency in the U.S., the Biden Administration announced on Jan. 30. That’s not only a symbolic move. It also means the government will stop footing the bill for things like COVID-19 tests, vaccines, and treatments, which could bring changes to many of the free programs U.S. residents have come to rely on throughout the pandemic.
For example, the end of the public health emergency may mean the end of the federal government’s free at-home test program, through which U.S. residents can periodically order antigen test kits. Medicare and private insurers will also no longer be required to cover free at-home tests each month, though some plans may choose to continue reimbursing some costs, with beneficiaries picking up the rest of the price out-of-pocket.
For now, though, these programs are still up and running—so you can stock up on free at-home COVID-19 tests while they’re a sure thing. Each U.S. household can currently get four tests for free from the federal government, and Medicare and private insurance plans reimburse the costs of up to eight at-home tests per insured person per month. Between the two, an insured individual could receive more than two dozen free tests between now and May 11.
Those at-home kits expire, however, so your stash won’t last forever. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has extended the expiration dates for many test kits, so their shelf lives may be longer than the packaging suggests. Current expiration dates are listed here on the FDA’s website.
Whether they’re reimbursed or not, at-home tests will remain for sale even after the public-health emergency expires, and labs and pharmacies will also still offer testing services—people may just have to pay for them going forward. It remains to be seen exactly how much lab tests will cost in the future, but some insured people may continue to have no out-of-pocket costs as long as they use in-network providers.
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Write to Jamie Ducharme at firstname.lastname@example.org