I got free COVID tests through my insurance – here’s why you should too

It’s been more than three months since the Biden administration demanded that all private insurance companies begin covering the cost of eight COVID tests per person per month. But I admit that I had not yet bothered to buy mine.

There were two main reasons: First, my family still had some leftover tests from the two batches that we were able to order free from the federal government. But the second, and honest, main reason? I thought it would be a pain in the neck.

Getting reimbursed by your insurance company is often a real headache. There are receipts to gather, forms to fill out, and a submission process that often seems intentionally difficult to navigate.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there is another way to take these tests for free through your insurance.

Dr. Frank McGeorge made a whole story explaining the process. I highly recommend you watch it!

Read more: Here’s how you can get 8 free COVID tests per person every month

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But here are the Cliff Notes: you can get the tests right over the counter at the pharmacy. They manage your insurance and you leave with the tests, no copayments, no forms to fill out, nothing.

But is the process really that simple? Sounds too simple, right? So my colleague and I agreed to put it to the test.

There are two adults and three children in my family, all covered by our insurance. That means I should be able to get eight tests for each of us, so 40 in total.

Important sidebar: This is eight tests, not eight test kits. If each box contains two tests, I would only get four boxes. This quickly turns into an elementary school story problem.

The second sidebar, you can get eight tests per person per month. Some insurance companies use the calendar month, and some consider a month “every 30 days”. Check your company’s website to see which rule applies to you.

Alright, back to the task at hand – I headed to my local Target pharmacy and told the pharmacist that I wanted to get COVID tests through my insurance. She said there were tests set aside behind the counter for this. I requested my full set (eight tests) for me and my husband. She took my ID and my insurance card, typed in some information and told me to come back in 15 minutes.

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The pharmacist told me that many people do not understand this delay. Basically, they run the tests through the same process used to submit a prescription to your insurance, so you can expect it to take about the same time.

I asked if many people took advantage of this benefit. She said no.

When I returned in 15 minutes, the pharmacist handed me two bags of test kits. They were closed with staples, so I didn’t open them until I got to my car. I was surprised to see only two boxes of tests in each sachet! That’s just four tests in total for me and four for my husband – half of what we should be able to get.

Since my goal was to test the process, I headed to another pharmacy to see if I would have better luck there.

At my local Walgreens, the pharmacy line was long and there were no COVID tests on the shelves. A friendly employee told me that a truck had just delivered some and offered to bring me a stack of them from the back.

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She came back with eight boxes. I waited in line at the pharmacy and when it was finally my turn, I told the clerk that I wanted to get the tests done for my family using my insurance.

She told me there was a limit of eight tests per household. It’s wrong. This is actually eight tests PER PERSON per household.

When I asked the question, the pharmacist heard me from behind and confirmed that I was right. I noticed later that there was actually a sign on the pharmacy counter confirming that too.

Here’s where things got a little daunting. The clerk had to fill out three separate paper forms for the tests – one for me, my husband and my daughter. Then she had to type a lot of information into the computer. Then she told me it would take at least 30 minutes to process. Spoiler alert – it is – and more.

When I was finally called back to the counter, the other customers took notice. A gentleman said, “You must have the patience of a saint!

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In the end, I was able to get the four additional tests still owed to me, the other four still owed to my husband, and the full eight for my daughter. I have two other children, but given the shortage of tests at this store, I decided to do them on another day. I was in the store for over an hour.

My colleague had also had some problems trying to get his tests. He was able to easily get two boxes (four tests) through his insurance for himself at the first pharmacy, a CVS. It took about half an hour.

But when he visited a Walgreens to try and get the rest, he was told he had already used his benefit for the month.

When he checked the documents from the first pharmacy, they listed him as having received four boxes (eight tests) instead of the two boxes he had actually received.

Here are the takeaways from our little test:

Begin by explaining to the pharmacist what you are trying to do. Each pharmacy seems to have a slightly different process.

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Make sure you have your ID and insurance card. You will need both.

If you’re trying to get the rest of your family members tested, say so clearly. The allocation of each person must be carried out separately via the computer. (This step will be much faster if you go to a pharmacy where you and your family members are already in the system because you filled prescriptions there.)

Expect this to take some time. Submit your request, then do some shopping to pass the time.

Learn from our mistakes! Do DO NOT leave the store without checking what you receive. Make sure you pass all the tests you expect and that the documents also show the correct number. If there is an error, correct it immediately.

To finish, TO DO make the effort to get your tests. There is no indication that we will get any further free tests from the government, and this insurance benefit is only guaranteed until July 15. Chances are good we’ll need COVID home testing well beyond that, so stocking up now makes sense. If you are able to select which tests you get, choose those with the longest expiration date. It took a little effort, but I’m happy to have a full supply on hand, just in case I need it.

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