The Biden administration is promising more free at-home COVID-19 tests for all Americans, and free antiviral coronavirus pills will soon be available as well.
In his first State of the Union address since taking office, President Biden outlined his vision to move the country from COVID-19 crisis mode into “more normal routines.” As case counts drop to their lowest levels since last summer, the coronavirus took a backseat in Biden’s speech on Tuesday, making way for his plans to deal with record-high inflation — especially due to skyrocketing prices of gas and vehicles — the war in Ukraine and its economic blowback.
Still, Biden outlined several “common sense steps'' to further beat back the coronavirus. Notably, he unveiled another round of free at-home COVID-19 tests for all Americans, as well as a new “Test to Treat” initiative that will distribute free antiviral COVID-19 pills through pharmacies.
“Thanks to the progress we have made this past year, COVID-19 need no longer control our lives,” Biden said.
“I cannot promise a new variant won’t come,” he said. “But I can promise you we’ll do everything within our power to be ready if it does.”
Here’s a closer look at the latest free testing and treatment plans.
More free COVID-19 tests in the mail
In January, the White House launched COVIDtests.gov, a website that all Americans, regardless of health insurance status, could use to order free at-home coronavirus tests and get them shipped directly to their doorstep.
The program initially provided four free tests per household. Once ordered, the USPS will deliver the tests, also for free, typically within seven to 12 days.
Ahead of the website’s launch, Biden said his administration had procured one billion at-home tests for distribution. Hundreds of millions of those tests are still available.
Biden announced on Tuesday that, starting next week, everyone will be able to place a second order through COVIDtests.gov or the federal hotline (800-232-0233).
According to the government website, the second order will also be capped at four tests per household. No documentation is required to order the tests. Simply a name, address and, optionally, an email address to track the delivery, are all that’s needed.
Additional at-home tests are available for free in the meantime. Through a separate White House program, privately insured Americans are eligible for up to eight free at-home COVID-19 tests per month — which are to be covered upfront or reimbursed by all health insurance providers. Folks on Medicare are not yet eligible but will be sometime this spring.
Free antiviral pills to treat COVID-19
Perhaps the biggest announcement, at least on the COVID-19 front, is the new “Test to Treat” program.
Biden said millions of antiviral pills from Pfizer, used to treat COVID-19 symptoms and reduce hospitalization, will soon be available for free at many drugstores.
“Pfizer is working overtime to get us a million pills this month and more than double that next month,” Biden said.
Biden added that the new antiviral treatment, which has received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, can reduce the likelihood of ending up in the hospital due to a COVID-19 infection by 90%.
“People can get tested at a pharmacy, and if they prove positive, receive antiviral pills on the spot at no cost,” the president said.
After the speech, a White House official briefed reporters with more details, saying that major pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens and Kroger will start rolling out the program as early as this month.
CVS and Walgreens confirmed to Money their participation but did not comment on when the program will launch. Kroger did not respond to our request for more information.
All three chains are part of a government partnership called the “Federal Retail Pharmacy” program, in which thousands of drugstores across the country have been providing free vaccines and high-quality masks.
It’s not yet clear whether the entire roster of Federal Retail Pharmacies, which also includes Walmart, Costco, Publix, Meijer, Hy-Vee and dozens others, will be participating in the new “Test to Treat” initiative.