Medicare patients can now get over-the-counter (OTC) COVID-19 tests free of charge, CMS announced on Monday. From now through the end of the public health emergency, individuals with Medicare Part B coverage, including those in Medicare Advantage plans, can get up to eight free OTC tests from any pharmacy chain participating in the program, including Albertsons Companies, 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, Shop and Stop, Walgreens, and Walmart.
Effective April 4, all patients have to do is request the tests and, in some cases, display their red, white, and blue Medicare card to verify their membership status without paying anything out of pocket. The store will provide the tests and bill Medicare. However, patients seeking more than the allotted eight tests in any calendar month will have to pay unless they have additional health coverage. Nor does the free tests program cover tests obtained before April 4.
OTC tests for asymptomatic patients fall into coverage gaps, with Medicare Part A covering hospitalization, Part B covering provider-based services like doctor visits and lab tests, and Part D covering drugs. Thus, the free tests plan CMS unveiled last December requiring private insurers to pay for OTC COVID-19 tests didn’t apply to Medicare. Changing the coverage rules was far from simple. But after a wave of public criticism, CMS shifted gears and announced that Medicare would cover 100 percent of the costs of OTC COVID-19 tests, starting this spring.
Learn more in the March 2022 issue of National Lab Reporter.