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So About Those “Free” At-Home COVID-19 Tests the Government Is Giving Us …


A large pile of Binax brand at-home COVID-19 test boxes.

The White House announced Monday that the Biden administration would be making over-the-counter at-home COIVD-19 rapid tests available in the U.S. for free.

Well, sort of.

OK, not really.

What the administration has actually done is require private health insurance companies to cover the cost of the tests (up to eight a month, per person), either through outright coverage or reimbursement.

For many people, this is certainly better than the nothing we were currently getting, as most OTC tests tend to be in the $20 each range—and that’s if you can actually find one—and for families or for people having to take them regularly, that can quickly add up to a fully prohibitive cost. ($20 is also 2.75 hours of work at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour so we can’t pretend like the cost of even one test isn’t prohibitive for millions of people in this country.)

However, this plan doesn’t help any of the tens of millions of people in the U.S. who don’t have insurance—plus those insured by Medicare, which does not appear to cover these tests.

And even for those who do have private insurance, and who luck out and find a test in a store (or online), it seems, at best, to be very stressful and at worst totally impractical and restrictive, to not know whether that test will be free or if you’ll have to front the cash for it (and then go through the burdensome process of filing an insurance claim) until you’re standing at the register.

The Biden administration isn’t totally ignoring the uninsured and underpaid. In addition to the free-but-not-really-free OTC tests, they’re also sending 50 million at-home tests to community health centers and Medicare clinics. The administration is also purchasing 500 million at-home tests that can be requested online from a website they say they’ll be setting up this month, to be mailed out for free to anyone who wants one.

All of which is very nice but still falls far short of what we actually need:

And throw in some free upgraded masks while you’re at it.

(image: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.