Seniors on Medicare soon won’t have to pay for over-the-counter COVID test kits, thanks to a rule change from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. CMS announced Wednesday that Medicare will begin covering the cost of home kits sold at pharmacies and other retailers starting in early spring.
It’s a reversal of course for the Biden administration, which last month required insurance companies – but not Medicare – to cover retail at-home test kits. Seniors and their advocates strongly objected to the original policy. On January 24th, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, along with 50 other advocacy groups, sent a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra and CMS administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, urging that Medicare cover over-the-counter test kits:
“The Administration’s efforts to increase outreach and education about vaccines, boosters, testing, and masks are important. However, we are urging HHS to do more to truly center its response on protecting the lives of older adults and people with disabilities in communities most at risk (by extending) coverage of at-home over-the-counter COVID-19 testing, with no cost-sharing, for all people on Medicare.” – Advocates’ letter to HHS and CMS, 1/24/22
As CNN reported, some seniors on Medicare complained that their over-the-counter COVID tests should be covered like everyone else’s. Many beneficiaries live on fixed incomes and cannot afford to buy the tests.
“The shift means that Medicare and Medicare Advantage enrollees will be able to pick up home tests at no cost. The agency will release a list of participating pharmacies and retailers when coverage begins.” – CNN, 2/02/22
The rule change will give seniors a convenient option for COVID testing. Medicare already covered COVID tests administered by doctor’s offices and laboratories – along with testing for patients with a prescription from their health care provider.
Beginning in early spring, Medicare enrollees – like patients with private insurance – will be able to order eight free home test kits per month. Before the new coverage goes into effect, the administration recommends that beneficiaries wishing to acquire home test kits at no cost visit the recently-launched government distribution site at covidtests.gov.