Local 4 producer: I got free COVID tests through my insurance -- here’s how to do it

Local 4 medical producer Sarah Mayberry explains importance of stocking up

(David Dermer, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved)

It’s been more than three months since the Biden Administration required all private insurance companies to begin covering the cost of eight COVID tests per person per month. But I will admit, I hadn’t bothered to get mine yet.

There were two main reasons: First, my family still had a couple of tests left over from the two batches we were able to order free from the federal government. But the second, and to honest, primary reason? I thought it would be a pain in the neck.

Getting reimbursed from your insurance company tends to be a hassle. There are receipts to gather, forms to fill out and a submission process that often seems intentionally challenging to navigate.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn there’s another way to get those tests through your insurance at no cost.

Dr. Frank McGeorge did a whole story explaining the process. I highly recommend you watch it!

Read more: Here’s how you can get 8 free COVID tests per person every month

But here’s the Cliff Notes: you can get the tests directly at the pharmacy counter. They run your insurance, and you walk out with the tests, no copay, no forms to fill out, nothing.

But is the process really that simple? It seems too simple, right? So my coworker and I agreed to put it to the test.

There are two adults and three children in my family, all covered by our insurance. That means I should be able to get eight tests for each of us, so 40 in total.

Important sidebar: that’s eight tests, not eight test kits. If each box contains two tests, I would only get four boxes. This is quickly turning into an elementary school story problem.

The second sidebar, you can get eight tests per person per month. Some insurance companies go by the calendar month, and some consider a month “every 30 days.” Check your company’s website to see which rule applies to you.

Okay, back to the task at hand -- I headed to my local Target pharmacy and told the pharmacist I wanted to get some COVID tests through my insurance. She said there were tests set aside behind the counter for that. I asked for my full allotment (eight tests) for myself and my husband. She took my ID and insurance card, typed in some information, and told me to return in 15 minutes.

The pharmacist told me a lot of people don’t understand this delay. Basically, they are running the tests through the same process used to submit a prescription to your insurance, so you can expect it to take about the same amount of time.

I asked if a lot of people are taking advantage of this benefit. She said no.

When I returned in 15 minutes, the pharmacist handed me two bags of test kits. They were stapled shut, so I didn’t open them until I got to my car. I was surprised to see only two tests boxes in each bag! That’s just four tests total for me and four for my husband -- half of what we should be able to get.

Since my goal was to test the process, I headed to another pharmacy to see if I would have better luck there.

At my local Walgreens, the pharmacy line was long, and there were no COVID tests on the shelves. A friendly employee said a truck had just delivered some and offered to bring me a stack from the back.

She returned with eight boxes. I waited in line at the pharmacy and when it was finally my turn, I told the clerk I wanted to get the tests for my family using my insurance.

She told me there was a limit of eight tests per household. That’s incorrect. It’s actually eight tests PER PERSON per household.

When I questioned this, the pharmacist overheard me from the back and confirmed I was correct. I noticed later there was actually a sign on the front counter of the pharmacy confirming this too.

Here’s where things got a little discouraging. The clerk had to fill out three separate paper forms for the tests -- one for me, my husband, and my daughter. Then she had to type a bunch of information into the computer. Then she told me it would take at least 30 minutes to process. Spoiler alert -- it did -- and then some.

When I was finally called back up to the counter, the other customers took note. One gentleman said, “You must have the patience of a saint!”

In the end, I was able to get the additional four tests still due to me, the additional four still due to my husband and the full eight for my daughter. I have two more children, but given the short supply of tests at this store, I decided to get those another day. I was in the store for well over an hour.

My coworker had also had some issues trying to get his tests. He was easily able to get two boxes (four tests) through his insurance for himself at the first pharmacy, a CVS. That took about half an hour.

But when he visited a Walgreens to try and get the rest, he was told he had already used up his benefit for the month.

When he checked the paperwork from the first pharmacy, it listed him as receiving four boxes (eight tests) instead of the two boxes he actually received.

Here are the takeaways from our little test:

Start by explaining to the pharmacist what you are trying to do. Each pharmacy seems to have a slightly different process.

Be sure you have your ID and your insurance card. You’ll need both.

If you are trying to get tests for the rest of your family members, make that clear. Each person’s allotment has to be run separately through the computer. (This step will be much faster if you visit a pharmacy where you and your family members are already in the system because you’ve filled prescriptions there.)

Plan for it to take a while. Submit your request, then do a little shopping to pass the time.

Learn from our mistakes! Do NOT leave the store without checking what you receive. Make sure you get all of the tests you’re expecting and that the paperwork shows the correct number too. If there’s a mistake, get it fixed right away.

Finally, DO make the effort to get your tests. There is no sign we’ll be getting any more free tests from the government, and this insurance benefit is only guaranteed through July 15th. The odds are good, we will need home COVID tests well beyond that, so it makes sense to stock up now. If you are able to select the tests you get, choose ones with the farthest expiration date. It took a little effort, but I’m happy to have a full supply on hand, just in case I need them.