Medicare will soon provide up to eight free COVID rapid tests a month to seniors enrolled in the government health insurance program, the Biden administration announced Thursday.
The new policy for the over-the-counter tests will take effect in early spring. The at-home tests will be available at pharmacies and other locations for clients with Medicare's "Part B" outpatient benefit, which about 90% of enrollees have.
This will be the first time that Medicare has covered an over-the-counter test at no cost to recipients, the Associated Press reported.
Access to free COVID rapid tests will also be available to people with Medicare Advantage, a private insurance option used by 4 in 10 Medicare enrollees. Those plans can already cover over-the-counter COVID-19 tests as a supplemental benefit, the AP reported.
Medicare will continue to provide free lab-based PCR testing, but those tests have to be ordered by a clinician or an authorized health care professional, White House officials said.
Last month, the Biden administration told private insurers to provide up to eight free at-home tests a month for their clients.
Thursday's announcement that Medicare will do the same was applauded by the AARP, an advocacy group for older people.
"AARP applauds today's announcement that will guarantee access to at-home over-the-counter COVID-19 tests at no cost for Medicare's 64 million beneficiaries... Expanded access to no-cost testing will help protect seniors who have been hit hardest by the pandemic and ensure they can remain connected with their loved ones and community," Nancy LeaMond, an AARP executive vice president and its chief advocacy and engagement officer, said in a statement.
"Every American should have an easy way to get at-home COVID tests. We know that people 65 and older are at much greater risk of serious illness and death from this disease -- they need equal access to tools that can help keep them safe," she added. "The cost of paying for tests and the time needed to find free testing options are barriers that could discourage Medicare beneficiaries from getting tested, leading to greater social isolation and continued spread of the virus."
Before Thursday's announcement, Medicare enrollees could get free at-home tests by requesting four free tests for home delivery through covidtests.gov or picking up free tests up from community locations such as libraries or senior centers that distribute them. Those options will remain available while the new policy is going into effect, the AP reported.
Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more on COVID tests.