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By Brad Tuttle
Updated: September 22, 2021 10:40 AM ET | Originally published: September 16, 2021
A close up of a man's hands doing a rapid corona test or antigen test
Getty Images

President Joe Biden recently announced that Walmart, Kroger and Amazon will be selling discounted rapid COVID-19 tests to help beat the pandemic. But it may not be clear to shoppers which tests are being sold at up to 35% off, and in some cases it's impossible to find the discounted tests in stock.

Increased testing is a critical component of the White House's "COVID-19 Action Plan," alongside efforts to require masks in many indoor crowded settings and boost vaccination rates by way of measures like cash incentives, worker mandates.

Some 10,000 pharmacies around the U.S. are currently offering entirely free COVID-19 testing to the public. But to make it especially easy to get tested, President Biden said in early September that Amazon, Walmart and Kroger grocery stores would be selling rapid COVID-19 tests at cost to people who want to be able to test themselves at home.

Early on in the pandemic, at-home tests were either exorbitantly expensive or simply not available to the public. Roughly a year ago, most at-home tests sold by major retailers cost well over $100 apiece. It's easy to see how the costs could add up, even if a family feels the need to conduct just a few at-home tests.

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Prices have come down to earth since then, with many tests going for less than $50 over the past few months. And with the discounts heralded by the Biden administration, prices are lower still: The BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self Test — a package that includes two tests — is normally listed at $23.99, but is being sold for $14 right now at Walmart and $17 online from Kroger.

That is, those are the prices if you can actually find tests in stock. BinaxNOW tests were out of stock when we looked at Kroger's website, and while they were available at Walmart's website when we first published this story, they have regularly been listed as out of stock since then. At-home COVID-19 tests from other manufacturers that have agreed to sell at cost — including those sold under the Ellume, Intrivo, Inteliswab and Quidel brand names — are all either out of stock or not yet on the market according to our searches of participating retailers.

There are plenty of other at-home COVID tests for sale from these stores, but they don't come cheap. Often, right next to the discounted sub-$30 tests listed as "out of stock," there are alternatives priced at $95 and above.

What may be especially frustrating for American shoppers is that, even if at-home tests were in stock at the discounted prices, they'd still be much more expensive compared to some other countries. As Kaiser Health News pointed out, supermarkets in Germany sell at-home COVID-19 tests for less than $1 each, while the UK is giving up to 14 tests for free to anyone who wants them.

Meanwhile, the one COVID-19 test that's being sold at cost by Amazon and is available is currently priced at $36.99, for a discount of only $3 off the usual price. Amazon also says that it is waiving standard referral fees for some tests sold at its site, with the hope that this will lower prices for shoppers.

One good thing is that regardless of how much you pay for COVID-19 tests, they can be purchased using pre-tax FSA and HSA dollars, if you have such accounts.

Money has reached out to Walmart and Kroger asking for more details about when shoppers can expect more at-home tests in stock. We'll update this story when we get more information. For now, here are the options we know of, including prices and availability online.

UPDATE Sept. 22: Walmart's website is now listing the BinaxNOW tests as out of stock. Kroger told Money that BinaxNOW is the only discounted COVID-19 test brand its stores are selling, but that inventory is low. The company plans on selling two other kinds of rapid COVID-19 tests, but it is unsure when they'll be available for sale.

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Where to buy discounted at-home COVID tests

At the time of publishing, we were only able to find two discounted at-home COVID-19 tests in stock and available for purchase online:

This BinaxNow product actually comes with two tests. But one user is expected to take both tests, within three days, for the most accurate results. Each test involves a simple nasal swab, and results appear in just 15 minutes — no need to ship anything or wait on a provider to get results.

Walmart's discount is certain to be welcomed by shoppers, but the retailer may be overstating just how big of a price cut is being offered. When BinaxNOW tests first went on sale at Walmart last spring, the full price was $19.88, not $23.99 as cited now.

Amazon's description of this product states: "This test is priced at cost to increase access to affordable, high-quality COVID-19 tests." But it's unclear exactly how much the test is being discounted because there is no original or list price stated.

According to the Amazon price-tracking site CamelCamelCamel, this product has been available on Amazon since the middle of July, and until recently the price was always set at $39.99. Starting on September 10, it dropped to $36.99 — for a discount of $3, or less than 10% off.

It's important to note that Amazon states that "this test is not a 'rapid' test." Instead, users collect their sample via nasal swab and ship it to an Amazon lab. Each test comes with a prepaid label for free next-day shipping, and you have to drop it off at UPS. Results are delivered electronically within 24 hours of the sample being received.

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