U.S. to suspend free COVID-19 test orders next week

A nasal swab is tested in a COVID-19 self testing kit provided by the District of Columbia government, which provides city residents four free take home tests per day, in this illustration taken January 11, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/Illustration

WASHINGTON, Aug 29 (Reuters) - Starting next week, Americans will no longer be able to order free at-home COVID-19 tests from a website set up by the U.S. government due to limited supply arising from a lack of congressional funding.

The COVIDTests.gov website, set up during the Omicron variant record surge in cases, helped U.S. households secure COVID-19 tests at no cost.

President Joe Biden in January pledged to procure 1 billion free tests for Americans, including 500 million available through the website. However, ordering through the program will be suspended on Sept. 2.

The administration will suspend taking orders for free at-home tests through COVIDTests.gov as of Friday, Sept. 2, "because Congress has not provided the COVID-19 funding we need to replenish the nation's stockpile of tests," said a senior administration official.

The government will no longer take orders through this program to ensure some tests are still available in the fall in case there is a rise in infections, the official said.

"We have already distributed over 600 million tests through this program, and every household has had the opportunity to place three orders for a total of 16 tests," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a briefing.

Alternative ways of getting at-home tests will remain, the official said, including getting them reimbursed by private health insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid, which collectively cover over 92% of Americans.

The government will continue to distribute free tests directly to long-term care facilities, schools, child care and early learning centers, community health centers, and food banks. The government will also keep supporting around 15,000 free testing sites in pharmacies and libraries.

"If Congress provides funding, we will expeditiously resume distribution of free tests through COVIDTests.gov," the official said.

Reporting Ahmed Aboulenein in Washington and Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli, Bill Berkrot and David Gregorio

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Thomson Reuters

Washington-based correspondent covering U.S. healthcare and pharmaceutical policy with a focus on the Department of Health and Human Services and the agencies it oversees such as the Food and Drug Administration, previously based in Iraq and Egypt.