Website to order free Covid-19 tests is up and running
By Kaitlan Collins, Maegan Vazquez and Tami Luhby, CNN
(CNN) -- The federal government has quietly launched its website to sign up for free Covid-19 tests, allowing people to order a maximum of four tests shipped directly to their household.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed Tuesday that the government website to order free Covid-19 tests is up and running as part of a "beta phase" ahead of the government website's formal rollout Wednesday morning.
"COVIDtests.gov is in the beta phase right now, which is a standard part of the process typically as it's being kind of tested in the early stages of being rolled out," Psaki told reporters at the White House. "It will officially launch tomorrow morning."
Given the formal launch wasn't expected until Wednesday, a White House official said this is only the beta phase to ensure the site works seamlessly.
"In alignment with website launch best practices, COVIDtests.gov is currently in its beta phase, which means that the website is operating at limited capacity ahead of its official launch," a White House official told CNN. "This is standard practice to address troubleshooting and ensure as smooth of an official launch tomorrow as possible. We expect the website to officially launch mid-morning tomorrow."
Though the official said the site was only operating at a limited capacity, it's unclear how the initial phase of the site is limited. Once shipping information was entered online, the site instructed people that tests would begin shipping in "late January" and the United States Postal Service, which is handling the deliveries, "will only send one set of 4 free at-home COVID-19 tests to valid residential addresses."
Late last week, administration officials said that once a request is made through the website, the tests are expected to ship within seven to 12 days. Requests are limited to four tests per household, regardless of household size.
"It was very easy, you just go to the website, you put in some very limited personal information like your address and your email and you hit go," said Jennifer Mattes who ordered tests over wine at the Milwaukee Public Market Tuesday.
She and Haley Stockinger both took less than a minute to order the tests.
"It was super simple and convenient," said Stockinger after ordering the tests. "You can just do it at the touch of your fingertips, which is really convenient."
Stockinger said she hopes it makes it easier for people in need of testing to get it.
"Especially people with young kids that need to know before sending them off to school, or people in health care, like it's good for anyone to have, to get sent directly to your house so you don't have the chance of infecting people outside."
Mattes voiced concerns about if the stockpile of tests will go fast, and if the shipping situation will go as said.
"I'll be very interested to see if they arrive in the time frame that people expect, which I guess is about a week," said Mattes.
She said regardless of how the rollout goes, long-term, she has hopes it'll make a difference.
"I hope these tests will ultimately lead to less infections and less spread."
In addition to the website, the federal government is setting up a hotline to request the tests. It's not clear when the hotline will launch.
The President announced his plan to make half a billion Covid-19 rapid tests available to Americans by mail last month ahead of Christmas, as the Omicron variant was surging across the US.
Now, the variant makes up almost all of US cases.
The Omicron variant caused 99.5% of new coronavirus cases in the US last week, according to estimates posted Tuesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The US is currently averaging 777,453 new Covid-19 cases and 1,797 new deaths per day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Overall, the Biden administration has pledged to acquire 1 billion rapid tests -- initially the 500 million to distribute by mail to Americans for free, with another 500 million announced recently to meet future demand.
Free home tests from retailers
Most Americans with private insurance can buy home tests online or in stores and have them paid for at the time of purchase or get reimbursed by submitting a claim to their insurer. A Biden administration effort, the program launched Saturday, and only tests bought from that date on are eligible.
Prescriptions or doctors' orders won't be needed, and the tests won't be subject to copays or deductibles. Insurers must pay for up to eight tests per covered individual per month.
Have you tried to get a free home test at your retailer? Have you called your insurer to ask about reimbursement? Tell us about it here.
Insurers may set up a network of preferred stores, pharmacies and online retailers where consumers can receive tests at no cost up front. People could still buy tests outside that network, but insurers would only have to reimburse up to $12 for each one.
Consumers should contact their insurers to find out if they provide direct coverage or if claims must be submitted.
Many Medicare enrollees, however, are not eligible for the free home tests from retailers. Traditional Medicare covers at no charge Covid-19 testing done in a lab when ordered by a medical professional.
Those enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans should check with their insurers to see if the costs of the home tests will be covered.
Americans, however, are having a tough time finding tests to buy at retailers or order online. Scores have written to CNN to complain that they can't find tests.
This story has been updated with additional details.
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