Posted on April 18, 2022
TUESDAY, April 5, 2022 (HealthDay News) – Medicare announced Monday that seniors can now walk into most drug stores and get a free over-the-counter COVID test.
“For the first time in its history, Medicare is paying for an over-the-counter test,” Deputy Administrator Dr. Meena Seshamani, director of the Center for Medicare, said in a news release on the announcement. “This is because COVID-19 testing is a critical part of our pandemic response. Combined with the free over-the-counter tests available through covidtests.gov, this initiative will significantly increase testing access for Americans most vulnerable to COVID-19.”
Now the 59 million Americans covered by Medicare Part B can get up to eight free, at-home tests each month from any provider that offers them, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said in the news release.
“This is all part of our overall strategy to ramp up access to easy-to-use, at-home tests free of charge,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in the CMS news release. “Since we took office, we have more than tripled the number of sites where people can get COVID-19 tests for free, and we’re also delivering close to 250 million at-home, rapid tests to send for free to Americans who need them....With today’s step, we are further expanding health insurance coverage of free over-the-counter tests to Medicare beneficiaries, including our nation’s elderly and people with disabilities.”
Participating providers in the program include Albertsons Companies Inc., Costco Pharmacy, CVS, Food Lion, Giant Food, The Giant Company, Hannaford Pharmacies, H-E-B Pharmacy, Hy-Vee Pharmacy, Kroger Family of Pharmacies, Rite Aid Corp., Shop & Stop, Walgreens and Walmart, the agency said.
More than 64 million older individuals and people with disabilities are insured by Medicare. The free, over-the-counter test program will continue until throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency.
How long the public health emergency will continue depends on what COVID variants do in the future.
Right now, all eyes are on the "stealth" BA.2 Omicron subvariant, which accounts for just over 72 % of U.S. COVID cases, CDC data shows. The original Omicron variant triggered a surge that was the largest spike yet in virus cases, but those numbers have dropped to the lowest levels seen since last summer’s Delta variant spread throughout the country.
Many Medicare beneficiaries are also now also eligible for a second booster shot, which the FDA approved last week for people age 50 and older and those with weakened immune systems.