- On Saturday, insurance companies were due to start reimbursing home COVID-19 test kits – 8 tests per customer per month.
- We checked how it worked in California and New York and found that many pharmacies did not have tests in stock.
- The 2 stores that did the tests did not reimburse on the spot.
On Saturday, the US government began requiring private insurance companies to cover the cost of 8 home COVID-19 test kits per person per month.
But that doesn’t mean you can necessarily walk to the nearest pharmacy and get 8 free take-home tests.
We visited two pharmacies in New York and four in California on Saturday and got different results each place we went.
We were unable to prepay for testing through our insurer and ended up having to submit claims in the mail.
“Preferred” pharmacies aren’t supposed to charge upfront, but we were unlucky
When the The Department of Health and Human Services announced the new requirement on Monday, he pointed out that the new rule “incentivizes insurers to cover these costs up front,” so consumers don’t have to pay for their tests out of pocket. Instead, insurers are setting up programs that allow people to get the over-the-counter tests directly through “preferred” pharmacies “with no out-of-pocket costs.”
“Most consumers with private health coverage can go online or to a pharmacy or store, buy a test, and either have their health plan pay for it up front, or be reimbursed for the cost by submitting a claim to their plan,” HHS mentioned.
The reality is that insurance companies may only have one “preferred” retailer from whom you can receive free test kits with no outlay. Or, they may have none.
For example, United Healthcare, the largest insurance company in the United States, only reimburses advance tests at Walmart pharmacies. If you don’t live near a Walmart pharmacy or decide to shop elsewhere, you should pay for the test kit in advance, keep your receipt, and submit it for reimbursement. The maximum refund allowed is $12 per test ($24 for a 2-pack).
But at two Walmart pharmacies in California, pharmacists were unaware of a reimbursement program for United-insured customers. One of the pharmacists said the store’s rapid COVID-19 tests had been sold out for weeks. The other store had not received any rapid test deliveries for days.
Anthem, another large US insurer, is allowing some members to order test kits directly through their website, free of charge. But when it comes to the federal reimbursement program, the company says it’s still “finalizing” plans.
Keep your receipt
Only one pharmacy visited by Insider on Saturday had heard of the federal reimbursement program.
At a local independent Brooklyn pharmacy, the pharmacist said he knew the program was starting today, but had not received any guidance or information about it, and planned to check with drug companies. insurance next week to find out if some could cover the tests. in advance for their members in his store.
A Duane Reade/Walgreens in New York recommended keeping your receipt and submit it to insurance.
At a Walgreens in Orange County, California, the pharmacist recommended calling your insurance company. (The pharmacy had posted a sign that home COVID-19 tests were out of stock, but a worker managed to find a handful of FlowFlex tests behind the counter. Tests are so scarce that customers were limited to two per person.)
An employee at a CVS in Orange County also didn’t know how to reimburse for home testing. The store had a supply of 300 rapid tests at 8 a.m. local time, she said, but the tests had sold out within the hour. The store had also not received a delivery of Abbott’s BinaxNOW, one of the most widely available rapid tests in the United States, for about a month, the employee said.
The real way to get a free test kit
If you don’t live near a “preferred” pharmacy and don’t want to pay out of pocket for a test kit, a federal website will go live next Wednesday, COVIDtest.gov, which will send people free test kits in the mail.
Households will be able to order up to 4 COVID-19 test kits each, but beware, they can take 1-2 weeks to deliver, so it’s best to order in advance.