Piggy bank wearing mask next to shopping car with dollars Americans often pay far more than people in other developed countries for tests, drugs, and medical devices, and the pandemic has accentuated those differences. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The four free covid-19 rapid tests President Joe Biden promised in December for every American household have begun arriving in earnest in mailboxes and on doorsteps.

A surge of covid infections spurred wide demand for over-the-counter antigen tests during the holidays: Clinics were overwhelmed with people seeking tests and the few off-the-shelf brands were nearly impossible to find at pharmacies or even online via Amazon. Prices for some test kits cracked the hundred-dollar mark. And the government vowed that its purchase could provide the tests faster and cheaper so people, by simply swabbing at home, could quell the spread of covid.

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