By Kaitlan Collins, Maegan Vazquez and Tami Luhby, 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.
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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CNN’s Sam Fossum, Ben Tinker and Virginia Langmaid contributed to this report.