COLUMBUS, Ohio — Insurance companies are now on the hook to pay for at-home COVID-19 tests, but accessing the tests remains a challenge.

What You Need To Know

  • Insurance companies are now required to cover COVID-19 home tests 

  • The process may involve paperwork and physically mailing

  • Finding a store with at-home rapid tests in stock remains a challenge 

​​​Columbus resident Emily Gehring, 43, said she is in the process of seeking reimbursement for two tests that she’ll use to board a cruise next month. 

She researched her insurance provider’s procedures and found that she has to fill out a pharmacy reimbursement form. She printed it out and filled out the document, but still needs to track down an envelope and a stamp to get it in the mail.  

“I mean, of course, it'd be awesome if it was online because then you could take care of it right there,” she said. “But I don't know how much time the insurance companies had to prepare for this.”

As of Jan. 15, insurance companies are required to cover up to eight at-home tests for each person on the plan. Some insurers have options for faxing documents, or completing a form online to request reimbursements.

The federal government has encouraged insurance companies to partner with preferred stores or pharmacies, allowing people to pick up tests without paying up front. 

For insurance companies that have established such partnerships, they are only required to reimburse $12 for tests purchased from other locations. In many cases, that amount will cover the costs, as several of the most popular tests are sold in two-packs for $24.

Gehring said she is only expecting a partial reimbursement because she purchased pricier proctored home tests, which produce a document of your result that can be used for travel or other purposes. 

“When I saw that it was only a $12 per test reimbursement, I was kind of bummed because these were $60 for two, but getting some reimbursements is better than none,” she said. 

Donald Braden, 51, of Columbus, said he was disappointed that people with Medicare will not be able to get reimbursed. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, tests may be covered for people who have a Medicare Advantage Plan. 

“My fundamental problem is just that standard Medicare does not cover them while private Medicare plans are required to,” Braden said. “As far as testing in general is concerned, we should have been producing more, encouraging routine testing from the beginning.”

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown is among a group of senators calling for the Department of Defense to make test reimbursements available for service members and their family members who are covered by TRICARE.

On Friday, Brown said that things are generally moving in the right direction with more opportunities becoming available for people to get free home tests.

“Making sure Ohioans can get reimbursed for their tests will help more people get tested, which means that more folks can return to work, keep their kids in school, and prevent spreading COVID-19 to their neighbors and loved ones,” Brown said. “I’ll keep working on other ways to increase access to testing and make it easier for folks to get reimbursed.”

Brown is also pleased that the federal government is now taking orders for its home test distribution program.

The website allows Americans to order up to four tests per household from a pool of 500 million tests. They will start shipping in late January via the U.S. Postal Service. 

Ohio Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said Thursday that the state’s supply of home tests remains limited. 

“This demand for testing continues to grow nationally, and continues to stretch our national supply chain,” he said. “This month, Ohio ordered 1.2 million proctored testing kits, but only a fraction of those tests have been delivered.” 

Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said Friday that he believes the federal government’s procurement is the reason why health departments in Ohio haven’t been able to get their hands on more tests.

“It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out where all of the test kits are. We were getting a weekly shipment, and now we've gone a couple of weeks without a shipment, but the federal government is buying 500 million,” he said.