NEWS

Medicare Will Now Cover COVID-19 At-Home Tests

at-home test illo

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Key Takeaways

  • Free at-home COVID-19 tests will be made available to individuals enrolled in Medicare Part B and Medicare Advantage health plans.
  • Medicare enrollees may receive eight tests per person per month at no cost. 
  • The move comes amidst a push by the Biden administration to improve access to COVID-19 testing.

Medicare will cover free COVID-19 at-home tests starting April 4, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Eligibility applies to anyone with Medicare Part B, including those enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan. Coverage will last until the COVID-19 public health emergency ends.

When the Biden administration launched its free test initiative in January, Medicare recipients were excluded from the plan. But in February, CMS announced that Medicare would cover free COVID-19 at-home tests by the early spring after legislators and advocates for the elderly criticized the administration for not making tests more accessible.

The new coverage intends to eliminate cost barriers people insured through the federal program, which covers people 65 years or older as well as younger people with permanent kidney failure.

Medicare will cover up to eight FDA-authorized at-home COVID tests per month. The program will pay pharmacies and participating locations directly so that Medicare Part B or Medicare Advantage beneficiaries can pick up the tests for free conveniently, without having to go through a reimbursement process, according to a CMS factsheet.

This is the first time Medicare has covered an over-the-counter diagnostic test at no cost to patients.

“There are a number of issues that have made it difficult to cover and pay for over-the-counter COVID-19 tests. However, given the importance of expanding access to testing, CMS has identified a pathway that will expand access to free over-the-counter testing for Medicare beneficiaries,” the CMS said in a statement.

Another Step Towards Making Tests Affordable and Accessible

The Biden administration faced scrutiny for its COVID-19 testing programs, particularly as the Omicron and Delta variants drove a surge in cases and tests became sparse in hard-hit areas.

In mid-January, the White House began requiring private health insurers to reimburse individuals for up to eight at-home COVID-19 tests per month. Those insured by Medicare were not included in that program, although some insured with Medicare Advantage—offered by private insurers—were eligible for reimbursement.

To further expand testing, the White House purchased a billion at-home tests to send to anyone living in the U.S., regardless of insurance status. The program covers four free at-home rapid tests per household. Individuals can request the tests at covidtests.gov. 

Approximately 60 million households have placed orders through the program, and tens of millions have been shipped, White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters last week

Medicare enrollees can continue to get tested for free at more than 20,000 testing sites nationwide, the CMS said. They can also receive a PCR test if it is ordered by a health provider, like a doctor or pharmacist. Medicare only covers one lab-performed test per year without an order. 

What This Means For You

If you're enrolled in a Medicare plan, you can now pick up eight over-the-counter COVID-19 tests per month at various pharmacies and other locations nationwide. While you should check with your pharmacy or healthcare provider to see if they are participating, a partial list of participating pharmacies can be found at Medicare.gov.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

1 Source
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  1. Department of Health & Human Services. Who is eligible for Medicare?

By Claire Bugos
Claire Bugos is a health and science reporter and writer and a 2020 National Association of Science Writers travel fellow.