The Biden administration has announced that people on Medicare, the nation’s health insurance program that covers more than 61 million mostly older Americans, will get up to eight free COVID-19 home tests each month beginning in the spring. It will be the first time Medicare covers a free, over-the-counter test for enrollees, and they will pay pharmacies and other entities directly to allow enrollees to pick up the free tests.
The administration had earlier said the home tests would not be covered by Medicare. But the they have since cited the “importance of expanding access to testing” and identified a way to pay for the tests for enrollees of both traditional and private Medicare plans, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
People will be able to pick up the tests from pharmacies and other vendors in early spring. Until then, Medicare recipients can order tests through the new government-run website, CovidTests.gov, which allows Americans to order four free kits per address delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.
Medicare recipients also can get tests from health care providers at more than 20,000 free testing sites. Medicare also covers lab-based PCR tests and rapid antigen tests ordered by doctors and other practitioners.
The Biden administration’s mandate that began Jan. 15 calls for those with private health insurance to get a monthly allotment of free tests. Some experts say the federal plan to quickly extend home testing will be challenging because of the nation’s fragmented health care system.
Tricare, a Department of Defense health care program that covers millions of active-duty and retired military families, earlier said it won’t cover home tests. They will cover only the cost of Food and Drug Administration-authorized home tests when ordered by a provider “for a medically necessary purpose.”
The Defense Health Agency also said it’s reviewing guidance on home testing kits “in order to identify whether any changes to the current policy are warranted.”