If You're Uninsured, Free COVID Tests Are Coming to an End — Here's What to Know

A lot has changed about COVID-19 testing since the start of the pandemic. We've gone from near-zero testing capacity to widespread home testing, with both rapid and PCR tests also available at many pharmacies and testing locations. We have a better idea of how to quickly and accurately test ourselves and other people, and the U.S. government has provided four free at-home tests for every American household that wants them. But as with everything to do with this pandemic, more changes are coming.

The remaining federal funding for COVID-19 programs is quickly running out, and the ongoing back-and-forth in Congress means that there's no new package on the horizon just yet. Among other things, this means that the program that reimbursed hospitals and clinics for providing COVID-19 care to uninsured people will no longer be able to accept claims due to insufficient funds. In other words, uninsured people will have to foot the bill for COVID-19 tests and treatments.

How Much Does It Cost to Get Tested For COVID-19?

People without health insurance may soon be charged for COVID-19 testing, if they're not already, as funding runs out on federal COVID-19 programs. Healthcare providers at Quest Diagnostics, which runs testing sites and laboratories across the U.S., have begun to tell patients they "can't get [tested] for free," said spokesperson Kimberly B. Gorode in an interview with the New York Times. According to the newspaper, uninsured patients will now be charged $100 to $125 for molecular testing from Quest, or up to $195 from other providers.

A hold-up at the Capitol is to blame for the lack of funds. Congress nixed the $15.6 billion allocated for the White Houses' COVID-19 program in the larger government spending bill, which passed three weeks ago, as Republicans demanded details on how previous funding was used. Democrats vowed to pass a separate bill to fund COVID-19 programs, but are unlikely to get it past a Republican Senate filibuster, NPR reports.

In the meantime, the snafu is impacting more than just COVID-19 testing. The government will cut back on shipments of monoclonal antibody treatments, stop buying oral antiviral treatments, and may not have enough money to provide a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine nationwide, if one ends up being necessary. This story is still developing, though, and the passage of a new funding bill could bring testing costs back down.

If you do have health insurance, your company likely covers COVID-19 testing at in-person testing locations; you can call your insurance company or look up its policy to confirm. As of January 2022, health insurance companies are also required to cover eight free over-the-counter at-home tests per individual, per month.

Where Can You Get Tested For COVID-19?

COVID-19 testing is available at most U.S. pharmacies, through healthcare providers, and at government testing sites. Make sure to call your testing location to see if you're required to make an appointment or if they accept walk-ins, and to find out whether your location uses a drive-in or walk-up testing system. Depending on the location, your healthcare provider may personally test you or provide you with a kit and instructions, which you'll complete yourself and give back to them to send to a lab.

At-home tests are also widely available online, over-the-counter, and through the federal government. Make sure you're buying a real and reliable COVID test (as opposed to a fake one) by checking that it's authorized by the FDA, is not expired, and comes with detailed instructions. You should also avoid buying COVID-19 tests from unfamiliar websites.

The funding conversation is ongoing in Congress, which means that COVID-19 testing costs may continue to change. Before showing up for your test, make sure you know how much it may cost you, especially if you're uninsured, and take advantage of the government's free tests as well.

— Additional reporting by Maggie Ryan

POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, the CDC, and local public health departments.