Medicare to Cover Free Over-the-Counter COVID Tests
- By Lee Fifield
- In COVID-19
- March 15, 2022
- Comments Off on Medicare to Cover Free Over-the-Counter COVID Tests
Medicare beneficiaries will be able to get over-the-counter COVID-19 tests at no cost starting in early spring.
A new Medicare initiative will soon allow Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage beneficiaries to receive up to eight over-the-counter (OTC) COVID-19 tests per month for free. This initiative, announced last month by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), was created in an effort to expand access to free testing and make at-home testing easier and more affordable. Tests will soon be available through eligible pharmacies and other participating entities at no cost. The new policy will apply to OTC COVID-19 tests approved or authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Simply put, those who receive Medicare will be able to walk into their pharmacy or other point of sale and pick up their free tests with no money out of pocket. Tests will not need to be purchased by the consumer and then reimbursed by Medicare — payment will be made directly by Medicare to entities participating in the initiative. More information about eligible pharmacies and other participating entities will be available in the early spring.
A First for Medicare
“This is the first time that Medicare has covered an over-the-counter test at no cost to beneficiaries,” said CMS, citing that up until now “a number of issues [that] have made it difficult to cover and pay for over-the-counter COVID-19 tests.”
Original Medicare does not currently pay for OTC COVID-19 tests, though Medicare Advantage plans may currently cover and pay for them as a supplemental benefit in addition to covering Medicare Part A and Part B benefits (check with your plan). Under the new initiative, all Medicare beneficiaries with Part B will be eligible for the new benefit whether they are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan or not.
How to Get Free COVID Tests Now
Free testing in different forms is currently available to all Americans. Four free at-home tests have been available upon request to all members of the household since January, and free testing sites are established in every state. Until this new initiative is enacted, Medicare suggests the following ways for beneficiaries to access free COVID testing:
- Request four free OTC tests for home delivery at covidtests.gov.
- Access low-to-no-cost COVID-19 tests through healthcare providers at over 20,000 free testing sites nationwide. A list of community-based testing sites can be found here.
- Access lab-based PCR tests and antigen tests performed by a laboratory when the test is ordered by a physician, non-physician practitioner, pharmacist, or other authorized healthcare professional at no cost. In addition to accessing a COVID-19 lab test ordered by a healthcare professional, people with Medicare can also access one lab-performed test without an order, also without cost sharing, during the public health emergency.
Stay tuned for more information about the anticipated rollout of this new initiative as it becomes available.
Update April 19, 2022: Medicare Administrative Contractor Novitas Solutions released billing guidance today for OTC COVID-19 tests.
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