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Medicare and Medicare Advantage members will soon be able to get eight over-the-counter at-home COVID-19 tests per month directly from eligible pharmacies, according to an announcement Thursday by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS.
Private and group health insurance plans have been required to cover free over-the-counter COVID-19 tests since mid-January. While the country’s 64 million Medicare beneficiaries are covered for most other care related to COVID-19, they were left out of that mandate.
"This is important news that will make a big difference in keeping people safe," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., in an email. "Last week, I led my Senate colleagues in urging the Biden administration to cover free over-the-counter COVID-19 tests for people on Medicare."
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Tests to be available in early spring
Members enrolled in Medicare and Medicare Advantage will have access to up to eight over-the-counter at-home COVID-19 tests each month starting in early spring, CMS said in its announcement.
The policy will take some time to implement because it’s the first of its kind for Medicare, which has never before covered any kind of free over-the-counter test for beneficiaries.
As of the announcement, dates and other details weren't yet available, but CMS said it is "working around the clock to implement this initiative."
Tests will be free, not reimbursed later
The tests will be free from the pharmacy. Medicare and Medicare Advantage members won’t need to buy COVID-19 tests, then apply for reimbursement.
Medicare will pay pharmacies directly for over-the-counter COVID-19 tests, so members will be able to get free tests from participating locations only. CMS recommends asking your local pharmacy or health care provider if they participate in the free at-home COVID-19 testing initiative once it goes into effect.
Other testing options available in the meantime
Here are other options for Medicare beneficiaries to get tested for COVID-19 before the spring:
Every household can receive four free over-the-counter tests from the federal government through covidtests.gov or by calling 800-232-0233.
Community health centers, clinics and state and local governments might offer free at-home tests.
Medicare covers all costs for clinical laboratory tests for COVID-19 whenever they’re ordered by a health care provider, plus one test per year without an order.
Community-based testing sites offer free or low-cost laboratory tests for COVID-19.
Medicare Advantage plans might already offer some coverage for over-the-counter COVID-19 tests, but they aren’t yet required to do so. If you have Medicare Advantage, check your plan materials or contact your insurer for more information.