Medicare will soon offer free at-home COVID-19 testing

February 4, 2022

Medicare will cover the cost of over-the-counter rapid COVID-19 testing beginning in the “early spring,” according to an announcement from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on Thursday.

People who are enrolled in Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage can pick up up to eight tests per month for free through “eligible pharmacies and other participating entities.” The policy applies to over-the-counter COVID-19 tests approved or authorized by the FDA.

“This is the first time Medicare has conducted an over-the-counter test at no cost to beneficiaries,” the announcement said.

The new policy allows Medicare to pay participating pharmacies and health care providers directly instead of demanding reimbursement.

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

The announcement comes after weeks of criticism from lawmakers and health care experts, who have called for Medicare recipients to get coverage for testing, according to The New York Times. Recent push from the Biden administration to require private insurers to cover home testing did not include the 64 million Medicare beneficiaries.

“Extensive access to free testing will help protect seniors hardest hit by the pandemic and ensure they can stay connected to their loved ones and the community,” Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president for AARP, said in a statement following the CMS . Announcement.

“Every American should have an easy way to get COVID testing at home,” she said. “We know that people 65 and older are at a much higher risk of serious illness and death from this disease — they need equal access to resources that can help protect them.”

The Biden administration has not said how many pharmacies or health care providers will participate or when the new policy will be introduced in the “early spring.”

Until then, according to the CMS announcement, people with Medicare can access free tests through several options:

Request four free over-the-counter home delivery tests at Access COVID-19 testing through healthcare providers at more than 20,000 free testing sites across the country. A list of sites is available on the United States Department of Health and Human Services website. Receive free lab-based PCR and antigen testing performed by a lab when the test is ordered by a physician, non-physician, pharmacist, or other licensed health care professional.

The CMS has also created a FAQ page about the new policy, with phone numbers for hard of hearing callers and people who need help in another language.

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