Walgreens and CVS Will No Longer Let You Do This in Stores

The two drugstore chains are ending a long-standing policy, and it could cost you.

Whether you're picking up your prescription or on the hunt for a late-night snack, there are plenty of reasons you might find yourself in a Walgreens or CVS. As two of the biggest drugstore chains in the U.S., the companies often make moves alongside one another, despite being competitors. In just the past few months, both retailers have made similar changes to their prescription policies and issued warnings to shoppers about certain shortages. Now, both Walgreens and CVS are making a change that will impact customers at both chains—and it could cost you. Read on to find out what you're no longer able to do in these stores.

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Walgreens and CVS have played an important role in the fight against COVID.

Close-up of a doctor vaccinating young man at home for covid-19 immunization. Female doctor hand holding syringe for preparing Covid-19 vaccine.

Pre-pandemic, people mostly turned to Walgreens and CVS to get their prescriptions filled. But over the last two years, both chains have become a popular destination for millions of people seeking COVID care—whether that be to get coronavirus tests, vaccinations, or free N95 masks.

According to its website, Walgreens has administered more than 65 million COVID vaccines and 29 million COVID-19 tests throughout the pandemic. During the same time period, CVS has given out more than 59 million vaccines and has completed more than 29 million tests.

But both chains have recently made a change to their COVID policies.


The coronavirus is still spreading across the U.S., but retailers have already started making changes to their mitigation efforts. Walgreens and CVS both stopped providing free COVID testing to everyone in their stores recently. According to the retailers, only certain individuals have access to no-cost testing now.

Walgreens customers "will be required to verify medical necessity in order to receive no-cost COVID-19 testing," per the company's website. In order to confirm "medical necessity," you will need to be symptomatic, have a high-risk condition, be pregnant, or have had a recent exposure to someone with a confirmed positive COVID case.

For its part, CVS says it's only conducting no-cost COVID testing at specific locations where "limited appointments are available for patients who qualify." The company does not explicitly state what those qualifications are, but does note that when scheduling an appointment, patients will be asked to choose a reason for testing by answering questions that help CVS determine "your systems and risk of exposure."

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This shift was made in accordance with changes from the federal government.

A woman getting a COVID test nasal swab from a healthcare worker while seated in her car

According to Walgreens, the move away from free COVID testing for all started July 1 as a result of "recent changes to the federal eligibility criteria." The White House has steadily warned that it had been running out of funding for COVID testing, treatment, and vaccines since early 2022. Due to a lack of action from Congress for additional funds, the federal government revealed in June that it was planning to cut roughly $10 billion from COVID testing and other areas to shift the remaining funds toward vaccination efforts instead, The Washington Post reported.

As a result, pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS are relying on "medical necessity guidelines," which don't include testing for traveling. "Testing for travel is no longer covered by federal testing criteria. You may be required to pay for your test if your insurance plan does not cover it. Please contact your insurance provider for coverage information," Walgreens now explains on its COVID testing website.

Both Walgreens and CVS are warning customers that they may be charged out-of-pocket for their tests now, advising them to check their health coverage before booking an appointment. For patients having to pay out-of-pocket, Walgreens charges $128.99 for its PCR and rapid in-store testing, while CVS charges $139 for lab testing.

You can still get free at-home COVID tests from the government.

postiive covid rapid test

If you're worried about being hit with an unexpected out-of-pocket charge for seeking out a COVID test at your local pharmacy, you may still be eligible for free at-home COVID tests. Every home in the U.S. is now eligible for three rounds of free at-home COVID tests from the federal government. And as of May 17, each order now includes eight rapid tests that will ship in two separate packages with four tests in each package, according to the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). This is an increase from the previous limit for the first two rounds, which were only four tests per order.

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