WASHINGTON—The Biden administration on Thursday announced that people with Medicare will be able to get free over-the-counter tests much more easily in the coming weeks.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said Medicare will cover up to eight free tests per month, starting in early spring. The tests will be handed out at participating pharmacies and other locations. They will be available to people who have Medicare’s “Part B” outpatient benefit, which about 9 in 10 enrollees sign up for.
Last month, the administration directed private insurers to cover up to eight free tests a month for people on their plans. Officials said at the time they were still trying to figure out what to do about Medicare, which covers more than 60 million people, most of them age 65 or older and more vulnerable to severe illness from coronavirus infection. Medicare benefits are governed by arcane laws and regulations, and officials said Thursday this is the first time the program has covered an over-the-counter test at no cost to recipients.
People with Medicare Advantage, a private insurance option that covers about 4 in 10 Medicare enrollees, will also have access to free COVID-19 tests through their plans, officials said. Medicare Advantage plans can already cover over-the-counter COVID-19 tests as a supplemental benefit.
The new policy focuses on so-called rapid tests, which provide at-home results in about 15 minutes.
Medicare also will continue to cover the more precise lab-based PCR tests at no cost, but those must be ordered by a clinician or an authorized health care professional.
Before Thursday’s announcement, Medicare enrollees did have options for getting free at-home tests, and those will remain available while the new policy is going into effect. Those options include requesting four free tests for home delivery through covidtests.gov or picking free tests up from community locations such as libraries or senior centers that distribute them.