How Americans can get free COVID-19 tests promised by Biden

People wait outside in the falling snow for a COVID-19 test at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, Jan. 7. Americans will be able to order free COVID-19 tests online beginning Jan. 19.

People wait outside in the falling snow for a COVID-19 test at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, Jan. 7. Americans will be able to order free COVID-19 tests online beginning Jan. 19. (Brian Snyder, Reuters)


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WASHINGTON — Americans will be able to order free COVID-19 tests online beginning Jan. 19, part of a plan by President Joe Biden to distribute 1 billion at-home rapid kits to fight the spread of the omicron variant.

Here's how the rollout will work.

How to order

Starting Wednesday, U.S. households can initially order up to four free COVID tests online at www.COVIDTests.gov. The four-test limit was set to "ensure broad access" amid a testing shortage across the United States, the White House says.

It didn't elaborate when U.S. households can order more tests.

The Biden administration will also launch a call line to help Americans unable to access the website to place orders and will work with community-based groups to support hard-hit areas in requesting tests.

How and when tests will be delivered

The administration will work with the U.S. Postal Service to package and deliver tests, which it says will usually ship seven to 12 days after being ordered.

All orders in the continental United States will be sent through USPS' first-class package service, and shipments to Alaska, Hawaii and U.S. territories will be sent by priority mail.

The administration says it will prioritize processing orders "to households experiencing the highest social vulnerability and in communities that have experienced a disproportionate share of COVID-19 cases and deaths, particularly during this omicron surge."

How many tests has Biden ordered?

Biden has pledged to purchase 1 billion at-home tests for Americans, and an administration official said on Friday that he may order even more.

The U.S. government has awarded contracts already for more than 420 million tests, and additional contracts will be awarded over the coming weeks, the White House said.

What about insurance company reimbursement?

In addition to launching the free test drive, the Biden administration is requiring health insurers to cover the cost of at-home testing kits for Americans, beginning Jan. 15.

Insurance companies and health plans will be required to cover eight tests per covered individual per month, the White House said.

Tests have been difficult for many Americans to find, driven in part by rapid test supply shortages as well as staffing shortages at the urgent care centers, pop-up sites and pharmacies that administer the tests.

Staffing at the laboratories that process the more complex PCR tests has also become a factor, frustrating many seeking to know quickly whether they are infected with COVID-19.

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