Medicare beneficiaries are getting more access to free at-home COVID-19 tests beginning in early spring, federal government officials announced Thursday.
Starting soon, people with Medicare or Medicare Advantage coverage — generally senior citizens and younger people with disabilities — will be able to get eight free tests a month when they go to locations including eligible pharmacies, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said.
“This is the first time that Medicare has covered an over-the-counter test at no cost to beneficiaries,” the agency said.
More information about how to find eligible pharmacies and other locations offering the free tests is coming soon, a spokeswoman said.
The news marks another bid by the Biden administration to expand access to testing during the winter, even as cases driven by the omicron variant are receding. Ahead of the holidays in December, at-home tests were a hot commodity and tough to find.
The administration is already in the process of distributing 500 million free at-home tests and it has ordered another 500 million.
Meanwhile, people with coverage through a private health insurance plan recently became eligible to get reimbursements for up to eight at-home tests a month. The rules on private insurance kicked in Jan. 15.
When announcing the reimbursement rules, the White House noted it was making 50 million free at-home tests available in community health centers and Medicare-certified health clinics.
Thursday’s news is different, because it means Medicare beneficiaries can get the tests for free at eligible pharmacies without any need for reimbursement.
There were 37.7 million beneficiaries under Medicare and another 23.4 million beneficiaries for Medicare Advantage in 2020, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Medicare Advantage, also sometimes called Part C, is where private insurers offer Medicare-approved coverage. “Medicare Advantage plans may offer coverage and payment for over-the-counter COVID-19 tests as a supplemental benefit,” the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services noted Thursday.