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Private insurance companies must now cover the cost of at-home tests—what that means for small pharmacies

Americans can get eight tests covered each month under the new policy.

DES MOINES, Iowa — As of Saturday, Americans can get at-home COVID-19 test kits free of charge, thanks to a new federal policy.

Purchases can be billed under insurance, or buyers can submit receipts for reimbursement after the fact.

However, even when tests are free, you can't buy them if you can't find them. Leslie Herron, the owner of Sumpter Pharmacy, said keeping take-home tests on shelves has been nearly impossible.

"Home tests are very highly sought after. We get probably 100 calls a day looking for home tests," Herron said. "We were hoping to get some in again, shipments got rerouted out of our control, we have no idea when we'll get any."

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With demand on the rise, it's also getting more expensive for pharmacies to buy tests. And for out-of-network retailers, insurance reimbursement is limited to $12 per test. Herron said she's worried about what this part means for her pharmacy. 

"I can't even buy the tests wholesale for $12 anymore, let alone all of the work involved in billing, waiting four to six weeks for my reimbursement. I can't even cover my cost of doing business," she said.

When you are able to find a take-home test, insurance will cover eight tests per person, per month. 

In a statement, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said:

“This is all part of our overall strategy to ramp up access to easy-to-use, at-home tests at no cost. By requiring private health plans to cover people’s at-home tests, we are further expanding Americans’ ability to get tests for free when they need them.”

The Biden administration is also launching a website on Jan. 19 that will allow Americans to order at-home tests online, free of charge. Officials say delivery of those tests will take seven to 12 days.

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