Kroger and Walmart hike the price of COVID-19 home tests

U.S. struggles to meet COVID testing demand

Not only are home coronavirus test kits increasingly hard to find, they're also becoming more expensive. 

Retailers Kroger and Walmart are raising prices on scarce over-the-counter rapid COVID-19 tests after both companies fulfilled pledges to offer Abbott Laboratories' kits to consumers at cost for 100 days, forgoing any profits during the initial sales period.

In 2021, Kroger, Walmart and Amazon agreed to sell the tests at cost or at a discount of up to 35% for three months in an effort to expand testing options for Americans. Without the retailer markups, the kits sold through select retail outlets and containing two tests cost consumers $14.

But that deal, which had been trumpeted by the White House, ended mid-December. A spokesperson for Kroger told CBS MoneyWatch that the supermarket chain had fulfilled its commitment to the Biden administration to make home COVID-19 tests available at cost, saying that the "pricing program has now phased out and retail pricing has been reinstated." 

Abbott's Binax Now at-home COVID-19 test kit, one of the most popular varieties, is now available in Kroger stores with pharmacies for $23.99. It is out of stock on Kroger's website amid surging demand for rapid, or antigen, self-test kits. Kroger sells Quidel's QuickVue test in the supermarket chain's nonpharmacy stores, according to the company spokesperson. 

Walmart also made good on its promise and continued to offer the tests for $14 a box past the program's expiration date and through the holidays before increasing the price, a spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch. The retail giant's Binax Now test kits, which are also sold out online, are listed for sale on its website for $19.88. 

"We have seen significant demand for at-home Covid-19 testing kits and are working closely with our suppliers to meet this demand and get the needed product to our customers," a Walmart spokesperson said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch. The spokesperson added that customers might have more luck procuring the tests in Walmart's stores versus online, where orders are limited to eight kits per customer. 

Other retailers had already been selling the kits at higher prices, never having struck deals with the White House. Despite those costs, many consumers are buying the kits amid record numbers of COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant

Pharmacy chain CVS Health, for example, has been selling the tests for $23.99 a box and is also sold out online. Customers have come up empty-handed in stores, as well. 

U.S. battles uptick in COVID cases as Omicron spreads

NowInstock.net, a service that tracks the availability of products, indicates that at-home rapid COVID-19 tests are nearly completely sold out online. In some cases, kits are available for pre-order.

An unlikely source of test kits

One bright spot: Intrivo Diagnostics' On/Go rapid self-test kit, which works similarly to the BinaxNow product, is in stock at Walmart.com. It retails for $29.99 for a box of two kits. It's also available from a less obvious source — health care company Ro, which is better known for solving mens' health care needs like hair loss and erectile dysfunction. 

Ro co-founder and CEO Zachariah Reitano said the test kits were among the company's three most sought after products over the holidays. 

"Our patients kept asking for tests, and we partnered with the makers of the On/Go test to provide them," he told CBS MoneyWatch this week. "They have been investing tremendously in manufacturing capacity even as cases have ebbed and flowed in the potential case where there was a far more contagious variant that spread quickly."

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