COVID-19 tests are now being sold at liquor stores – and that’s a concern for some

By: - February 7, 2022 5:44 am
Exterior of the state liquor store

COVID-19 tests are on sale for $11.29 at the state’s liquor stores. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

This story was updated on Feb. 7, 2022, at noon to correct the number of tests in each testing kit and on Feb. 23, 2022 at noon to remove inaccurate information about insurance reimbursement that had been provided by the state. 

With the omicron variant persisting and at-home rapid COVID-19 tests in short supply, the state opened access Friday to 500,000 tests thanks to $12 million in federal pandemic money. When those are gone, it will restock.

But unlike the 1.55 million tests it gave away for free via websites in November and December, and free tests coming to pharmacies for Medicare recipients, these tests will cost $11.29,  –  a bit more than at retail pharmacies –  when they are in stock. And they’ll be available only at the state’s 67 liquor stores and nine Doorway locations, sites that help people in crisis seeking help with substance misuse. The cost includes an administrative fee of 4 cents per test from the liquor store.

“This is just one more option for residents,” Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette told executive councilors last month before they approved using federal money to buy 1 million at-home tests. “Often people are hunting for tests at CVS or Walgreens just to have in the medicine cabinet in case,” she said. 

The state chose the liquor stores because they have capacity to store the tests and are located throughout the state. The state will use the money it collects from sales of the tests for other COVID-19 response efforts. And commercial insurance companies and Medicaid will reimburse the cost. Uninsured people can apply for Medicaid to cover the cost of the tests by going to and clicking “COVID-19 Group.”

The Flowflex tests come one to a box, not two like the tests the state provided last year. 

Even with a price tag and limited sales sites, the chance to get at-home tests will be good news for those who have been unable to find them locally or online. But the program raises concerns for others. 

That includes Kristine Stoddard, senior director for New Hampshire public policy at the Bi-State Primary Care Association, who is concerned about cost and sales locations. While the Doorways will make the tests more easily available to those seeking treatment, those sites and the liquor stores are not necessarily options for people in recovery – or the wider public, she said.

“We appreciate that the state is working hard to enhance access to testing supplies and normalize the idea of testing,” Stoddard said. “However, cost is one of the most impactful barriers to accessing health care services, including COVID-19 testing. We believe that COVID-19 testing supplies should be free for all Granite Staters and as widely available as possible.”

She said she’d like to see access expanded not only to people in the recovery community, but also people who experience homelessness and people who are homebound. “We hear daily from New Hampshire health centers that patient demand for COVID-19 testing remains extraordinarily high, in part because schools in their communities need more supply of testing kits,” Stoddard said. “At this critical point in the pandemic, we need to break down barriers to care, not erect them.”  

Kate Frey, vice president of policy for New Futures, whose advocacy around health and wellness includes substance use disorder, was relieved to see that the liquor stores were not the only sales site given that it is the liquor store locations that have been promoted in the state’s announcements. 

“While it’s important to have these tests widely available to the public, we also need to be thoughtful about the impact to individuals who suffer from a substance use disorder,” she said. “It is good to know the tests are also available at the Doorways because much of the initial messaging focused on the availability only through the liquor stores. I hope that is emphasized in the continued marketing of the program and perhaps other avenues of purchase should be considered in the future.”

Jake Leon, spokesman for Health and Human Services, said the state is selling the tests at cost rather than providing them for free for a couple of reasons.

He said approval of the state’s plan by the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee, which had to sign off along with the Executive Council, required that the tests be sold at cost. Additionally, he said, the tests were purchased with federal COVID-19 funds that come with limits. 

Selling the tests will allow the state to reuse the pandemic aid to address future needs as the pandemic continues to create challenges, he said. 

Locally, CVS and Target are selling the tests for less than the state, about $10 and $8, respectively. Leon said availability drove the slightly higher costs for the state’s tests.

“The department held a competitive bidding process to procure tests from vendors that could make the tests available to people immediately,” Leon said. “The vendor with the lowest price for immediately available tests was selected. Comparable tests recently seen in pharmacies are sporadically available from manufacturers and are on restricted allocation to the pharmacies under their existing contracts. In order to buy tests in bulk and make them immediately available, the state had to pay slightly more.”

The 850,000 free test kits the state provided for free last year, via an online order form, were so popular they were gone in less than 24 hours.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Thursday it will make at-home tests available to Medicare recipients this spring at no cost through pharmacies and other locations that it did not identify. 

In January, the Biden administration made four free at-home tests available for everyone through an online order form. Orders are supposed to be shipped within seven to 12 days, but the site warns there may be delays: “Due to high demand, we’re fulfilling orders as tests come in. Place your order now and it will ship as soon as tests become available.” 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications. Email: [email protected]