NEW YORK — The federal government announced it will stop buying and distributing free at-home COVID-19 antigen tests starting this Friday.
On the website, Covid.gov, the Biden administration said that as of Sept. 2, such tests will no longer be distributed to individuals for free "because Congress hasn’t provided additional funding to replenish the nation’s stockpile of tests."
Every U.S. home, however, remains eligible until then to order up to eight more rapid antigen assays.
The Biden administration began making COVID-19 antigen tests available for free in January during the global spread of the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant, when it said it would buy 1 billion tests for distribution in the US. Each of the initial two rounds of ordering provided for up to four tests per household. A third round, opened on May 17, expanded that allowance by another eight tests.
By then, the program had distributed 350 million rapid antigen tests, according to the White House. The May announcement also said the administration lacked the money to promise the program would continue.
"Due to Congress’s failure to provide additional funding for the nation’s COVID-19 response, the Administration cannot continue making the types of federal investments needed to sustain domestic testing manufacturing capacity, and this may jeopardize the federal government’s ability to provide free tests moving forward," the White House announced at the time.
In February, the Biden Administration asked that Congress provide $22.5 billion in additional emergency funding toward the pandemic response, a request congressional Republicans rebuffed by saying some funding remained unspent and they wanted more details on the proposed spending and past spending in the pandemic response. White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha, in a recorded presentation to the US Chamber of Commerce, said in August that the administration responded to the lack of funding by shifting money away from important programs including testing and PPE procurement and toward buying vaccines for the fall and winter.
People with private health insurance remain eligible for reimbursement for the cost of at-home testing. The Biden administration announced in January insurers would need to cover the cost of up to eight rapid antigen tests per month for each person they cover.
The US Department of Health and Human Services also has been providing no- or low-cost COVID-19 testing, both antigen- and PCR-based, at health centers and select pharmacies for individuals including the uninsured. According to the Covid.gov website, that program will continue.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it is seeing a decline in the number of recorded COVID-19 cases and deaths, with the average number of deaths dipping below 400 per day for the first time since early July.