Now is the time to stock up on COVID home test kits

Cleveland Clinic Vero Beach

As the number of new weekly COVID-19 infections continues to decline across most of Florida – with local numbers holding steady at 120 cases – the time to stock up on Covid home test kits and get a booster shot is now, before federal regulations change in May or supplies run out.

The federal public health emergency declared for COVID-19 is set to expire. Unless it’s extended, test kits, vaccines and medications used to treat Covid illness will eventually shift to being sold on the “commercial market” without government stockpiles or subsidies.

Some things won’t change immediately on May 11, provided that the federal government still has these products in stock purchased under contract during the emergency declaration.

“As long as federally purchased vaccines last, COVID-19 vaccines will remain free to all people, regardless of insurance coverage. Providers of federally purchased vaccines are not allowed to charge patients or deny vaccines based on the recipient’s coverage or network status,” the Kaiser Family Foundation reported.

After the federal stockpile runs out, the report said Medicare patients should still be able to get free Covid vaccines, but the uninsured or underinsured likely won’t have access to those needed boosters.

At-home test kits, now widely available under Emergency Use Authorizations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, will be an out-of-pocket expense for many people after the public health emergency expires.

“After May 11, 2023, people with traditional Medicare will no longer receive free, at-home tests. Those with private insurance and Medicare Advantage (private Medicare plans) no longer will be guaranteed free at-home tests, but some insurers may continue to voluntarily cover them,” Kaiser said.

“For those on Medicaid, at-home tests will be covered at no-cost through September 2024. After that date, home test coverage will vary by state.”

In the meantime, two ways to get free or reimbursed test kits are through insurance coverage (8 kits per month should be covered), or through the U.S. Postal Service’s free test kit distribution program at

For COVID-19 tests performed at a medical office after May 11, the test itself will still be covered for most insured people, but a copay may be required for the doctor’s visit.

Telehealth flexibility for Medicare recipients has been extended through Dec. 31, 2024, but people with private insurance will need to check to see what their policy covers after May 11 for telemedicine.

Covid oral treatments have been provided through a supply of medications purchased directly from companies like Merck and Pfizer by the federal government. That won’t change while those supplies last.

“Any pharmaceutical treatment doses (e.g. Paxlovid) purchased by the federal government are still free to all, regardless of insurance coverage,” Kaiser said. “This is based on the availability of the federal supply and is not affected by the end of the public health emergency.”

After that pre-purchased supply runs out, most insured people including Medicare recipients will need to pay a cost share for those treatments, just like any other prescription medication. For people on Medicaid, Covid treatments will be free through Sept. 2024, the report said.

A separate issue from the supply and cost to patients of the vaccines, tests and treatments is that eventually, the emergency authorizations granted by the FDA will end, and drug companies will need to complete the process of obtaining full FDA approval for their products. The FDA has yet to issue a Federal Register notice on that topic.

“Importantly, the ending of the public health emergency declared by HHS under the Public Health Service Act will not impact FDA’s ability to authorize devices (including tests), treatments or vaccines for emergency use. Existing emergency use authorizations for products will remain in effect and the agency may continue to issue new EUAs going forward when criteria for issuance are met,” the FDA’s Jan. 31 update said.

Though the timeline is unknown, when drug makers need to present their efficacy and safety data to the FDA to obtain traditional, non-emergency approvals, each test, vaccine and therapeutic medication should face a high level of scrutiny from FDA officials that the urgency and the politics surrounding a growing pandemic did not allow in 2020 when the EUAs were first issued.

In other virus news, the number of hospital admissions for Respiratory Syncytial Virus or RSV is up along the Treasure and Space coasts this month, but influenza activity is down across the state of Florida.

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