Feb. 4, 2022
Medicare will cover the cost of over-the-counter rapid COVID-19 tests beginning in the “early spring,” according to an announcement from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on Thursday.
People enrolled in either Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage will be able to pick up as many as eight tests per month for free through “eligible pharmacies and other participating entities.” The policy will apply to over-the-counter COVID-19 tests approved or authorized by the FDA.
“This is the first time that Medicare has covered an over-the-counter test at no cost to beneficiaries,” according to the announcement.
The new policy will allow Medicare to pay participating pharmacies and health providers directly rather than require 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. “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 announcement comes after weeks of criticism from lawmakers and health care experts, who have called for Medicare recipients to receive coverage for testing, according to The New York Times. In the recent Biden administration push to require private insurers to cover at-home tests, the 64 million Medicare beneficiaries weren’t included.
“Expanded access to no-cost testing will help protect seniors who have been hit hardest by the pandemic and ensure they can remain connected with their loved ones and 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 at-home COVID tests,” she said. “We know that people 65 and older are at much greater risk of serious illness and death from this disease — they need equal access to tools that can help keep them safe.”
The Biden administration hasn’t said how many pharmacies or health providers will participate or when the new policy will be enacted in the “early spring.”
Until then, the CMS announcement said, people with Medicare can access free tests through several options:
- Request four free over-the-counter tests for home delivery at covidtests.gov.
- Access COVID-19 tests through healthcare providers at more than 20,000 free testing sites across the country. A list of sites is available on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website.
- Get free lab-based PCR tests and antigen tests performed by a lab when the test is ordered by a doctor, non-physician practitioner, pharmacist or other authorized health care professional.
The CMS also created a frequently asked questions page about the new policy, which includes phone numbers for hearing impaired callers and those who need help in another language.