Health Advice



Want free, at-home COVID-19 tests from pharmacies and insurers? It's not always easy, despite requirements

Lisa Schencker, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Health & Fitness

Blue Cross spokesman John Simley said, in an email, that her experience “isn’t typical,” and members can order free tests online or call Express Scripts Pharmacy, a mail-order pharmacy that contracts with Blue Cross, at 833-715-0942.

“Every time I have been attempting to do something like this recently, I can’t help but think about people who are having more challenges,” McClelland said. “I feel like I have limited challenges. For me to feel challenged by this process, I know it’s got to be so much worse for other people to the point that no one pursues it.”

McClelland isn’t the only one jumping through hoops to get the free tests, which can otherwise cost more than $20 for a set of two. That price can be problematic for many people, considering that some experts advise people who aren’t feeling well to take the tests as often as daily, in some cases, to see if they have COVID-19.

A Tribune reporter recently visited more than half a dozen pharmacies to try to get free at-home COVID-19 tests, covered by insurance. The Tribune only visited pharmacies listed as being part of Prime Therapeutic’s network with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, the state’s largest health insurer, meaning those pharmacies were supposed to allow customers with Blue Cross/Prime to get the tests for free. Prime is a pharmacy benefit management company owned by Blue Cross companies.

Pharmacy workers at two Mariano’s stores told the Tribune they were not running the at-home tests through insurance, and customers had to pay for them upfront and submit claims for reimbursement.

Three Walgreens pharmacies said they could run the tests through insurance, but it would take anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours. A pharmacy worker at a Jewel-Osco pharmacy said he could run the tests through insurance in 20 minutes, but the store only had one box left and wouldn’t get more in stock for a week.


A pharmacy worker at a CVS store said the tests could be run through insurance in 20 to 30 minutes, but the tests were in a different part of the store. They were near the cash registers at the front of the store, meaning a person would have to find them at the front of the store and then take them to the pharmacy in the back to get them covered by insurance. People can also buy them at registers in the front, but have to pay for them out of pocket when doing so.

When asked why the two Mariano’s stores wouldn’t take insurance for the tests, despite being listed as in-network with Blue Cross/Prime, a Mariano’s spokeswoman said in a statement, “Mariano’s continues working to align all insurance plans with our system allowing us to submit for reimbursement directly.”

Marci Conlin, vice president of pharmacy network management for Prime Therapeutics, said in a statement that: “Any pharmacy in Prime’s network is able to run an electronic claim for over-the-counter (OTC) COVID-19 test kits. ... Prime continues to educate pharmacies on the process to submit claims.”

Simley, with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, said many of the problems Blue Cross has encountered involve “pharmacy procedures or correcting member information.”


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