Biden Admin Makes COVID Tests Free for All After Previously Dismissing Idea

President Joe Biden's administration has reversed course and will now provide free at-home COVID-19 tests to American households, with a rollout expected in January.

In a statement issued early on Tuesday, the White House announced the free at-home testing initiative in an apparent U-turn following criticism of the administration's decision not to adopt a European-style free testing system.

The Biden administration has now said it will provide free, rapid tests to Americans through the purchase and distribution of half a billion at-home tests and a website for people to order them.

The White House said the tests would be "distributed for free to Americans who want them, with the initial delivery starting in January 2022. The Administration will stand up a website where Americans can go to get at-home tests delivered to their home—for free."

This is a significant departure from testing plans announced earlier this month, which did not include distributing free at-home tests to American homes. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also caused controversy on December 6 by appearing to dismiss the idea as too costly.

Countries such as the U.K., Germany and South Korea currently provide free at-home testing to their residents. However, when Psaki was asked about the issue, she initially defended the administration's policy of having private insurance companies reimburse people for the costs of tests.

When Psaki was asked if the system was too complicated, she replied: "Should we just send one to every American?"

"Then what happens if every American has one test? How much does that cost, and then what happens after that?" Psaki added.

Psaki suffered some criticism as a result of those comments and a Politicoreport on December 9 suggested that the administration was concerned about the cost of the federal government purchasing hundreds of millions of tests that could potentially go unused.

The administration has changed course as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has now become dominant in the U.S. and is now believed to account for 73.2 percent of cases new cases in the week ending December 18, while the Delta variant accounts for 26.6 percent of new cases.

The first U.S. case of the Omicron variant was confirmed on December 1 and the variant accounted for just one percent of cases in the week ending December 4. The spread of Omicron also appears to be faster than Delta.

The first U.S. death from the Omicron variant was reported in Harris County, Texas on Monday and was a case of reinfection.

The White House's Tuesday statement also outlined other measures the administration plans to take, including opening new federal testing sites to increase testing capacity and using the Defense Production Act (DPA) to "make sure the U.S. is producing as many tests as quickly as possible."

Biden's administration once again emphasized the need for people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and announced plans to set up new pop-up vaccination centers, deploy more vaccinators and increase capacity at pharmacies.

UPDATE 12/21/21 06.21a.m. E.T.: This article was updated to include more information.

Biden Speaks at a COVID Meeting
US President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with the White House COVID-19 Response Team in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC on December 16, 2021. The Biden administration has announced it will provide free at-home COVID tests to Americans. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images