On October 16 2022, a tweet went viral about eight free COVID-19 tests per month, available to Americans “with an insurance card” through pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens:
A photograph of three boxes appeared with the tweet, with labeling that indicated that the boxes contained COVID-10 antigen self tests.
In early 2022, the United States federal government began distributing at-home COVID-19 tests to Americans at no cost. A January 14 2022 page on the White House website, “Fact Sheet: The Biden Administration to Begin Distributing At-Home, Rapid COVID-19 Tests to Americans for Free,” explained:
To help ensure Americans have tests on hand if a need arises, the Biden Administration is purchasing one billion at-home, rapid COVID-19 tests to give to Americans for free. A half-billion tests will be available for order on January 19th  and will be mailed directly to American households.
There will be free tests available for every household, and to promote broad access, the initial program will allow four free tests to be requested per residential address. Starting January 19th , Americans will be able to order their tests online at COVIDTests.gov, and tests will typically ship within 7-12 days of ordering.
In March 2022, a second round of tests became available. At that time, NPR reported the initiative was designed for Americans to “have them on hand” for when they might be needed:
Americans can order more free at-home COVID-19 tests from the U.S. government at COVIDtests.gov to be shipped to their homes, the White House said on [in March 2022].
Each household can order a total of eight tests. So if you ordered four in January , when the program launched, you’re eligible to order a second batch of four more … More than half of U.S. households ordered tests in January and February . “The way that we set this up was to make sure that every household who wanted these tests could get them before we made a second round available,” White House testing coordinator Tom Inglesby told NPR.
On August 28 2022, CNN reported that the federal government would no longer ship no-cost COVID-19 tests to American households:
The federal government is ending its free at-home Covid-19 test program this week, citing a lack of funding and efforts to preserve supply ahead of an anticipated fall surge in cases, a White House official told CNN on Sunday [August 28 2022].
Both the White House and the website where people can claim their tests blamed Congress for failing to provide additional funding for the program, which provided up to 16 free tests per household since the beginning of the year.
“Ordering through this program will be suspended on Friday, September 2  because Congress hasn’t provided additional funding to replenish the nation’s stockpile of tests,” the Covid.gov website reads.
There were links to the websites of CVS and Walgreens in subsequent tweets in the thread. A page on CVS.com (“Request at-home tests”) appeared as a form, with text at the top confirming the claim:
Request at-home tests
We need to verify some information before we can submit a request to your insurer for your at-home COVID-19 tests.
Insurers may cover up to 8 at-home COVID-19 tests per person every 30 days.
Please have your prescription insurance information ready.
On Walgreens.com, a similar page, “Get up to 8 no-cost COVID-19 rapid antigen tests,” explained:
At-home COVID-19 testing is available at no cost to you for patients ages 3 and older. Select insurance plans may cover the cost of at-home COVID-19 tests. Limits apply to the number of tests covered per person per month. After a patient submits an order, Walgreens will attempt to confirm eligibility and copay amounts with their insurance provider.
“Free” COVID-19 tests (covered by insurance) were described in a January 10 2022 United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) press release. It mentioned eight tests per covered individual, per month (some of which involved out-of-pocket costs that were eligible for reimbursement):
As part of its ongoing efforts across many channels to expand Americans’ access to free testing, the Biden-Harris Administration is requiring insurance companies and group health plans to cover the cost of over-the-counter, at-home COVID-19 tests, so people with private health coverage can get them for free starting January 15th . The new coverage requirement means that most consumers with private health coverage can go online or to a pharmacy or store, buy a test, and either get it paid for up front by their health plan, or get reimbursed for the cost by submitting a claim to their plan. This requirement incentivizes insurers to cover these costs up front and ensures individuals do not need an order from their health care provider to access these tests for free.
Beginning January 15, 2022, individuals with private health insurance coverage or covered by a group health plan who purchase an over-the-counter COVID-19 diagnostic test authorized, cleared, or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be able to have those test costs covered by their plan or insurance. Insurance companies and health plans are required to cover 8 free over-the-counter at-home tests per covered individual per month. That means a family of four, all on the same plan, would be able to get up to 32 of these tests covered by their health plan per month. There is no limit on the number of tests, including at-home tests, that are covered if ordered or administered by a health care provider following an individualized clinical assessment, including for those who may need them due to underlying medical conditions.
Over-the-counter test purchases will be covered in the commercial market without the need for a health care provider’s order or individualized clinical assessment, and without any cost-sharing requirements such as deductibles, co-payments or coinsurance, prior authorization, or other medical management requirements.
As part of the requirement, the Administration is incentivizing insurers and group health plans to set up programs that allow people to get the over-the-counter tests directly through preferred pharmacies, retailers or other entities with no out-of-pocket costs. Insurers and plans would cover the costs upfront, eliminating the need for consumers to submit a claim for reimbursement. When plans and insurers make tests available for upfront coverage through preferred pharmacies or retailers, they are still required to reimburse tests purchased by consumers outside of that network, at a rate of up to $12 per individual test (or the cost of the test, if less than $12). For example, if an individual has a plan that offers direct coverage through their preferred pharmacy but that individual instead purchases tests through an online retailer, the plan is still required to reimburse them up to $12 per individual test. Consumers can find out more information from their plan about how their plan or insurer will cover over-the-counter tests.
Finally, we submitted a request on CVS.com using the form. After entering our information, the following screen appeared:
Under “Request submitted,” text read:
We’ll let you know if your insurance plan has approved your request for at-home COVID-19 tests. Coverage is not guaranteed. Check with your insurer if you have questions.
A popular October 16 2022 tweet claimed that “with an insurance card you’re entitled to four free boxes of two COVID tests per month from CVS or Walgreens.” A HHS press release from January 2022 supported the claim, indicating insurers were “required to cover 8 free over-the-counter at-home tests per covered individual per month.” We completed one of the forms at CVS.com (to prevent a duplicate claim to insurance), resulting in the message above. It is true that insured Americans were entitled to eight no-cost or free COVID-19 tests per person, per month — but also that coverage was “not guaranteed.”