How to order free COVID tests from the federal government

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The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it would once again begin mailing rapid at-home COVID tests to American households, free of charge. The news comes amid one of the largest COVID surges the country has seen, with hospitalizations and deaths both rising, though far from record highs.

Here is what you need to know about the rebirth of this federal program:

Q: When can I get more free tests?

A: Every U.S. household can request a new shipment of free tests, starting Monday, Sept. 25. The tests will be available through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ COVID website — covid.gov/tests — and will be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.

Q: How many free tests can I get?

A: Each household is eligible for 4 free tests delivered directly to the home, regardless of how many tests your household received in previous rounds.

The program, started in January 2022 by the Biden administration, distributed more than 600 million tests before officials halted the program late that summer, citing a lack of funding. The administration then resumed offering tests late last year before halting the program again this spring. According to HHS, more than 2 out of 3 households received a shipment of free tests.

Q: What about the rapid at-home tests I already have?

A: If you have old rapid at-home tests in the medicine cabinet, public health officials are encouraging people to check to see if the expiration date has been retroactively extended on this list from the Food and Drug Administration. You can find the list on the FDA website, fda.gov.

Q: Can I get free tests still through my insurance?

A: Most California residents with employer-provided health insurance can still get free tests through your insurance provider, at least for another seven weeks. According to the California Department of Public Health website, “most California insurance plans must pay or reimburse for 8 at-home test kits per month through November 11, 2023.”

Ask your insurance company for details, and you can check this CDPH tipsheet for more details about what kind of COVID care is covered.

Q: What about the new vaccine shots?

A: Pharmacies and medical providers are now offering the new version of the COVID vaccine, approved last week with a new formula, based on a recently circulating version of the omicron virus variant known as XBB.1.5. Everyone 6 months and older is eligible and encouraged by public health experts to get the shot along with the annual flu vaccine as we head into the winter, when respiratory viruses usually surge.

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