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

“We’re continuing to educate participating pharmacies to make sure they’re following the process outlined by the federal government,” Simley said. “If you use a pharmacy in Prime’s network, you should not have to submit a separate claim for reimbursement when you purchase the tests at the pharmacy counter.”

Regarding the long wait times at some Walgreens pharmacies, Walgreens spokeswoman Kris Lathan said in an email, “Wait times vary based on peak times of the day for that location (like the hour before the store closes, for example).”

Jewel-Osco spokeswoman Mary Frances Trucco said in an email, “All of our Osco Drug Pharmacies are fully stocked with COVID-19 at home tests,” when asked if Jewel stores are low on tests.

A spokesman for CVS Health said in an email that customers with certain types of insurance can visit or use the CVS pharmacy app to locate, order and pick up at-home COVID-19 tests at no upfront cost, or can get covered tests from pharmacy counters. He said CVS stocks the tests in various locations at its stores, including at the pharmacy counter.

Some Illinois consumers are bypassing pharmacy counters altogether to try to get free tests, with varying degrees of success.

The federal government is allowing people to get up to eight free tests per household through People can get free tests on that site regardless of insurance status.

Some people who want more than those eight tests from the federal government are ordering them through stores’ websites or through their insurers online.

Lisa Kelly, 39, of Jefferson Park, bought tests from Walgreens and Walmart’s websites, paying upfront and then submitting claims for reimbursement. She had to fill out forms from OptumRx, the prescription drug benefit provider for her insurance plan with Aetna. “It’s really kind of confusing,” she said.


She’s also ordered the tests directly through an Optum website, with no upfront cost, but she hasn’t yet figured out how to order eight a month for each of her family members, rather than just for herself and her husband.

“Perhaps if I had done the paperwork reimbursement route that would have worked, but that’s a lot of money upfront,” she said.

Members of Blue Cross and UnitedHealthcare can also order up to eight tests monthly for each person in their household at no cost, through insurance-related websites. But a person with Blue Cross must have an Express Scripts Pharmacy online account to order the free tests through Express Scripts. A person with UnitedHealthcare with OptumRx benefits can order them through the online Optum Store website.

Ordering tests through insurers’ websites, however, can sometimes mean a wait of a few days to weeks before the tests arrive — not ideal for someone who is sick or has just been exposed to the illness.

“I’m grateful for the access to the tests, and I’m grateful that they’re covered, but it is burdensome, and it really disproportionately affects people that don’t have the time to sink into it or that may not have internet access at home,” Kelly said of the process.

“Families really feel like they’re on their own, and that they need to get the tests in case they need them because you can’t always get them in a pinch,” she said.

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