The U-M community now has several options for obtaining free rapid antigen tests for COVID-19, with additional information since the test availability was first announced Jan. 15.
The tests take 15-30 minutes for a result and are the cornerstone of a federal strategy to curb the nationwide surge of COVID-19 infections. They require no prescription and can be “self-swabbed” at home or administered in pharmacies and medical clinics.
Free COVID-19 tests
Although quicker and more convenient than PCR tests, rapid antigen tests can yield false-negative results. Depending on the situation, a PCR test may then be necessary to rule out COVID-19 infection. Those who receive a positive result on either a rapid antigen test or a PCR test should begin isolation, and report their positive test result to the university if the test was conducted outside of Michigan Medicine or U-M’s Community Sampling and Tracking Program.
Those seeking rapid tests may get them from a federal mail order site that went live Jan. 18 and offers four free rapid tests to each U.S. household, including delivery.
As of Jan. 15, U-M health plan members also may purchase FDA-approved rapid tests at retail pharmacies through the university’s Prescription Drug Plan. A federal mandate requires that insurers cover eight rapid tests per covered individual, for a 30-day period.
Some pharmacies may accept insurance at the point of sale, resulting in no out-of-pocket cost. However, others may require drug plan members to purchase the tests and file for reimbursement using the prescription drug claim form.
Stephen Lott, U-M pharmacy services manager, said pharmacies appear to be adjusting their processing procedures daily.
Lott said his team is working diligently with U-M’s pharmacy benefit manager, Magellan Rx, and networks to help members receive the full benefit.
“There have been some inconsistencies, even to the degree that the same pharmacy chain may have different policies between stores,” Lott said. “If a pharmacy doesn’t accept your prescription drug card, save your original receipt and submit a reimbursement claim.”
Under the federal mandate, reimbursement is capped at $12 per test. For example, if you purchase a kit with two tests, your maximum reimbursement is $24.
Because rapid tests are less reliable and have a smaller window for accuracy, those who show symptoms of COVID-19 are recommended to seek the more accurate PCR test.
The Campus Maize & Blueprint outlines PCR test options for faculty, staff and students. Faculty or staff with COVID symptoms should seek testing through Occupational Health Services, while symptomatic students should contact University Health Service. Asymptomatic testing is handled through the U-M COVID-19 Community Sampling and Tracking Program.
Helpful tips for over-the-counter purchases
The following measures may help ease the purchase of rapid antigen tests from pharmacies:
- Call ahead to learn how a pharmacy is processing the benefit.
- Present U-M’s prescription drug card. The pharmacy will either accept it with no cost to the member or require the member to pay the full cost of the tests and seek reimbursement.
- If necessary, file a reimbursement claim by completing a prescription drug claim form and sending it, along with the original receipt, to Magellan Rx at the address listed on the form.
- Members purchasing tests online also will be required to pay at the time of purchase. For reimbursement, they should follow the above process.
- Secondhand tests purchased from reseller sites will not be covered.
(Note: This article has been updated form its original version to clarify the reliability of rapid antigen tests versus PCR tests.)