QuickVue At-Home test
QuickVue Test. Photo by Virginia Jeffries

Covid test expiration dates are a big issue in many American homes theses days.

Millions of Covid at-home tests are being distributed with expired use-by dates printed on the boxes. Many of those tests have had their expiration dates extended by the United States Food and Drug Administration.

For a lot of people, the date on the box is enough for them to say “no, thanks.” But their expiration dates may have been extended. The United States Food and Drug Administration lists extended Covid test expiration dates by manufacturer, with a searchable chart.

“The table below lists FDA-authorized at-home OTC COVID-19 diagnostic tests, and includes information on expiration dates, who can use the test, and other details that may help you decide what test is right for you,” the page says.

“The table includes links to home use instructions for each test. For more information about each test, including the Letter of Authorization and authorized labeling, see In Vitro Diagnostics EUAs: Tables of IVD EUAs.

“In the table below, the ‘Expiration Date’ column lists the shelf-life and where to find the expiration date for that test.  The shelf-life is how long the test should work as expected and is measured from the date the test was manufactured.  The expiration date is set at the end of the shelf-life.  In some cases, the expiration date for a test may be extended. An extended expiration date means the manufacturer provided data showing that the shelf-life is longer than was known when the test was first authorized.  For more information about how the expiration date is determined and why it may be extended, see the At-Home COVID-19 Diagnostic Tests: Frequently Asked Questions.”

Free at-home Covid tests

As the Covid era wears on, the availability of free tests and masks is waning. With Congress unable to pass funding for further Covid-related expenses, it is clear that people will be paying for these things, with the heaviest burden falling on uninsured people.

Some cities, like New York, are making free tests available at places like libraries and other cultural institutions. (We are also distributing free tests and masks in the city as part of our Vaccine Equity Partner Engagement grant program with the Fund for Public Health of New York City, a grant that is scheduled to end at the end of December.) The Biden administration ran a program sending free at-home tests to Americans, but that program has ended.  The commercial insurance companies are still supposed to be paying for at-home kits — up to eight per month for free, up to $12 for each individual test, as long as the federal public health emergency continues.

Beyond that, commercial insurers can “allow members to use their prescription benefits to pick up tests at an in-network pharmacy, the way they would with any other covered medication,” Caroline Lewis writes over at Gothamist.

Walgreens and CVS both have online portals where customers can enter their insurance information and request free tests to pick up at the store. CVS will even ship them to your house. Or you can simply visit the pharmacy in person. Walgreens says it will submit a claim to a patient’s insurer on their behalf.

“Initially, this policy only covered commercial insurers, but it has since been extended to Medicare Part B. Some Medicare Advantage plans also cover the full cost of at-home tests, as does New York state’s Medicaid program.” Other states’ Medicaid programs, of course, may not cover these tests.

I was not able to order on the CVS site, and was instructed that the on-line order option is not available for Medicare and Medicaid members. I did order on the Walgreens site, and was instructed to pick up in a couple of hours — of course, another obstacle to getting the tests easily.

Expired Detect at-home tests

I recently used the F.D.A. site to sort through the tests under my bathroom sink and give a number of them to my daughter. The rest of my at-home tests are mostly still usable, with the exception of the Detect kits I bought last spring in an excess of enthusiasm. The Detect kits have a hub and then individual tests; the company describes its tests as “PCR-quality results at home in 1 hour.”

Here’s what I wrote to Detect support on July 31 when I learned that their expiration date would not be extended:

“I bought an initial hub testing system, with test and hub plus additional three tests for a total of 4 tests, in the spring, for $222.

“Then I bought an additional 3, for $147.

“That’s $369 that I paid to you.

“Mercifully, I have not needed them. But now I see that their expiration date is 4 1 2022. And while many tests were extended, the FDA chose not to extend the Detect’s validity, and they are now useless.

“Questions:

“1. Can you please replace these 7 tests? I will be most grateful. My order is under the above email, [xxx].

“2. For how long will any new tests be usable?

“3. Is the hub still valid? Or did that expire also? Can you replace it when you replace the others?

“Thank you so much!”

Their response:

“Thank you for reaching out. We recommend that the tests are used by the expiration date listed on each test box.

“Detect had data supporting the extension of the ‘Use By’ dates for tests that expired on April 1st, 2022 and this data was reviewed by FDA. As such, an official extension for the expiration was granted for those lots through May 2022.

“The Detect Hub does not expire.

“We list the Use By dates for any tests being shipped on our website and do not have an exchange/refund program for expired tests. Our return policy is listed on our website here: https://detect.com/support-info

“Please let us know if you have any questions.”

My response:
“Hi, thanks!

“This is unsatisfactory!

“1. other tests have longer use-by dates
“2. yours are more expensive than most
“3. this policy penalizes enthusiastic early users like me, who believed your promises.

“It is not a better test if it costs more and has the shelf-life of a bunch of bananas.

“I could have bought multiple tests from other manufacturers for the money i gave to you based on your promises.

“The least you could do is to replace the 7 tests. That would show that you care about customers, and about public health writ large — and not only about money.”

Their response:

“Hello,

“Unfortunately, we will not replace the 7 tests. We do make the Use By dates very visible on our website in multiple places so that our customers have that information before they purchase the tests.”

My response:
“It is not a better test if it costs more and has the shelf-life of a bunch of bananas.

“I could have bought multiple tests from other manufacturers for the money i gave to you based on your promises.

“The least you could do is to replace the 7 tests. That would show that you care about customers, and about public health writ large — and not only about money.”

They didn’t respond — and the next thing I heard from them was a marketing email with this message:

Hi Jeanne,

Thank you for trusting Detect to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. As you plan to get together with your family and friends this holiday season, make sure you have Detect’s rapid PCR-quality tests on hand to have confidence in your health status. We have tests that are expiring by February 2023 that we are offering at a 40% discount. Visit Detect.com to place your order and enter the discount code DETECT40 at checkout.

Stay safe and healthy with Detect.

Best,

The Detect Team

Jeanne Pinder

Jeanne Pinder  is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded...