Medicare will soon offer free home coronavirus testing

Medicare, which covers about 60 million Americans, will provide free over-the-counter rapid coronavirus tests beginning this spring, according to the federal government’s Medicare and Medicaid Bureau.

The policy would “allow Medicare beneficiaries to pick up tests for free at the point of sale and without being reimbursed,” the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Thursday, adding that it would mark the first time that Medicare the whole cost of an over-the-counter test.

The announcement followed weeks of clamor from lawmakers and health care advocates who claimed Medicare recipients had passed over the government’s drive to require private insurers to cover the tests.

Under the plan, which also applies to Medicare Advantage beneficiaries, Medicare will pay eligible pharmacies and health care providers to offer the tests. The board did not say how many pharmacies would participate.

Enrollees can get up to eight tests each month, the same number covered for privately insured Americans as part of a series of new requirements the Biden administration announced last month.

The new Medicare program won’t begin until “early spring,” the government said. The increase in the number of cases caused by the Omicron variant, which is already declining, may have decreased significantly by then. Still, the tests could help Americans with possible future spikes, perhaps caused by different variants, and as people gather more often with fewer virus cases around.

The free tests covered by Medicare would go to some of the most vulnerable sections of the US population. The vast majority of Medicare enrollees are 65 years of age or older; others are younger people with disabilities.


February 3, 2022, 5:25 PM ET

Because new treatments for the virus must be given early in the course of infection to be effective, rapid testing and case identification is critical to their use.

After the Biden administration announced new guidelines for testing reimbursements under private insurance plans, lawmakers called on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to extend coverage to Medicare enrollees. Frequent use of rapid tests, which typically cost about $10 each when paid out of pocket and usually packaged in pairs, can be prohibitively expensive for many Americans.

“The cost of paying for testing and the time it takes to find free testing options are barriers that can prevent Medicare beneficiaries from getting tested, leading to greater social isolation and further spread of the virus,” he said. Nancy LeaMond, an AARP official, in a statement. statement on Thursday praising the government for the new policy.

The coronavirus pandemic: important things to know

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Around the world. Several countries are easing their pandemic protocols, though World Health Organization public health leaders continued to urge caution with easing restrictions. A sweeping Covid vaccine mandate will become law in Austria.

Developments in the research field. Intranasal vaccines currently in development may be better boosters by stopping the coronavirus in the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract. Nasal immunization has already been shown to be effective in protecting mice, ferrets, hamsters and monkeys from the coronavirus.

The plan is the latest step in a patchwork of federal efforts to deliver faster testing, after President Biden received a sharp public response over a shortage of testing over the holiday season as cases of the Omicron variant skyrocketed and demand for the Omicron variant skyrocketed. tests increased enormously. As the Biden administration hunted for tests to buy, manufacturers struggled to meet demand from public and commercial buyers around the world.

The government has already sent tens of millions of free rapid tests as part of a new Postal Service program, the White House said last week. For now, any American household can order four tests through that program. At least 60 million households, nearly half of the total number in the United States, have ordered tests from the program, which uses a website and hotline to place orders. Like all Americans, Medicare enrollees are eligible to receive those tests.

The Biden administration said Thursday that Medicare registrants could also still get free coronavirus testing at more than 20,000 community sites, as well as when tested by health care providers.

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