The website, which formally launches on 19 January, follows Joe Biden’s announcement that the government would purchase half a billion at-home tests for free distribution to US households.
Americans with private medical insurance plans also can have the costs of up to eight over-the-counter at-home tests covered per month.
Under that plan, effective from 15 January, people who provide their insurance information to certain in-network pharmacies will be able to get their tests without paying any out-of-pocket costs.
Americans can order free tests from the federal website – covidtests.gov – or by calling a telephone hotline.
Orders are expected to ship beginning in late January.
How to order free at-home from the website:
- From covidtests.gov, click “order free at-home tests”
- Enter contact information and shipping address
- Click “check out now”, review your information, and click “place my order”
How to get free tests through private insurance plans:
- Americans with private insurance plans can obtain at-home Covid tests with no out-of-pocket costs by walking into a pharmacy, retailer or online vendor within their network and submitting their insurance information.
- People who buy their kits at a provider that is not covered in their insurance network can still be reimbursed but by up to $12 per test.
Rapid tests take roughly 15 minutes and are able to quickly detect virus proteins that trigger the production of antibodies, essentially signalling whether the person is contagious at that moment.
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are generally more accurate but take longer to process.
At-home tests can also be expensive – tests can range from $10 to $35 – with out-of-pocket costs quickly adding up for families or people who require results for work and other activities.
State and local governments have also sought to distribute or administer them for free at public health centres, mobile testing sites, libraries, fire departments and other sites.
After ordering tests from the government website, Americans living within the continental US will typically receive their tests seven to 12 days after placing their orders, which will be shipped via the US Postal Service.
Americans who place orders from addresses in Alaska, Hawaii, US territories, or from overseas military post office addresses will receive their tests via Priority Mail service.
According to a fact sheet distributed by the White House, the administration will prioritise the processing of orders to households “experiencing the highest social vulnerability” and those who live in communities that have borne a disproportionate share of Covid-19 cases and deaths, especially during the most recent surge caused by the Omicron variant.
According to the White House, the government has already executed contracts for the purchase of 420 million of those tests “on an extremely rapid timetable” is working to get those tests packed for shipping by the Postal Service.
“While we are seeing record testing demand with Omicron … we're making great strides to increase our testing supply to meet this demand,” an administration official said.
The White House also stressed that the free Covid testing programme is only part of the Biden administration’s testing strategy, which is also providing tests at more than 20,000 testing sites around the country.
Asked whether the administration is concerned that the website may crash from the volume of use in the way the Obama administration’s healthcare.gov website did during rollout of the federal government’s Affordable Care Act insurance marketplace, the official said the “best tech teams” from across the administration, the postal service, and the US Digital Service have been working together to ensure that the site is ready for a successful launch.
Additionally, the official said the US Digital Service has been following “industry best practices” and “conducting load testing” to ensure the website can weather the traffic it is expected to receive.
“They are working to scale to the demand … they have instant response labels in place so we're ready for this, and we’re ready for Americans to start ordering their stuff on January 19th,” the official said.
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