People on Medicare are now able to get up to eight free COVID-19 tests per month at participating pharmacies, the Biden administration announced Monday.
The move comes after a similar initiative launched in January for people with private insurance, in response to the surge in demand for testing due to the surge in cases from the omicron variant over the winter.
But people on Medicare were initially left out, leading to a push to figure out a way for tests to be free for them as well, especially given that seniors are among the groups most vulnerable to the virus.
The new program goes into effect Monday. People on Medicare, including Medicare Advantage plans, will simply have to show their Medicare card at a participating pharmacy, and they can get the tests for free, with the pharmacy billing Medicare directly.
Participating pharmacies include CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Rite Aid, and many major grocery chains. The full list is available here.
The system for people on Medicare has fewer hurdles than people with private insurance face. Those with private insurance often have to pay upfront for their tests and then seek reimbursement from their insurer, a cumbersome process.
The program is also a departure for Medicare, which does not usually cover over-the-counter tests.
“For the first time in its history, Medicare is paying for an over-the-counter test,” said Meena Seshamani, deputy administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “This is because COVID-19 testing is a critical part of our pandemic response. Combined with the free over-the-counter tests available through covidtests.gov, this initiative will significantly increase testing access for Americans most vulnerable to COVID-19 and will provide valuable information for future payment policy supporting accessible, comprehensive, person-centered health care .”
In addition, all Americans are eligible to have two sets of four tests mailed directly to their home through covidtests.gov.
Demand for testing overall has fallen since its peak during the omicron surge as cases have fallen significantly. But there is a risk of a new increase as the more transmissible BA.2 subvariant of omicron circulates, leading experts to stress that maintaining testing capacity is key.
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