Thursday, February 3, 2022

Medicare Will Figure Out How to Cover OTC COVID Tests in "Medicare"

In recent weeks, the Biden administration has worked hard to provide free COVID testing widely, especially home COVID tests.   However, they left Medicare out of this, possibly because Medicare generally doesn't cover OTC items and Medicare usually requires a physician's order for drugs, DME, or tests.  

CMS announced on February 3, 2022, that they will be working quickly on a mechanism for DTC COVID tests right inside the Medicare program.

Press release after the break. It includes a link at the end to a PDF, but the PDF just says that CMS will work out the policy ins-and-outs soon.   Basically, it says, "Stay Tuned" at the level of a press release.  

"Starting in early spring, people with Medicare will be able to go to an eligible pharmacies and other entities that are participating in this initiative to receive over-the-counter COVID-19 tests for free through their Medicare part B coverage. More information about eligible pharmacies and other entities that are participating in this initiative will be available in the early spring. Once the initiative is up and running, CMS will encourage beneficiaries to ask their local pharmacy or current health care provider whether they are participating in this initiative."

February 3, 2022 

Contact: CMS Media Relations
CMS Media Inquiries

         Biden-Harris Administration Will Cover Free Over-the-Counter COVID-19 Tests Through Medicare

CMS Developing Initiative to Enable Access to Eight Free Over-the-Counter COVID-19 Tests for Medicare Beneficiaries in Early Spring

As part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s ongoing efforts to expand Americans’ access to free testing, people in either Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage will be able to get over-the-counter COVID-19 tests at no cost starting in early spring. Under the new initiative, Medicare beneficiaries will be able to access up to eight over-the-counter COVID-19 tests per month for free. Tests will be available through eligible pharmacies and other participating entities. This policy will apply to COVID-19 over-the-counter tests approved or authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

This is the first time that Medicare has covered an over-the-counter test at no cost to beneficiaries. There are a number of issues that have made it difficult to cover and pay for over-the-counter COVID-19 tests. However, given the importance of expanding access to testing, CMS has identified a pathway that will expand access to free over-the-counter testing for Medicare beneficiaries. This new initiative will enable payment from Medicare directly to participating pharmacies and other participating entities to allow Medicare beneficiaries to pick up tests at no cost. CMS anticipates that this option will be available to people with Medicare in the early spring.

Until then, people with Medicare can access free tests through a number of channels established by the Biden-Harris Administration. Medicare beneficiaries can:

  • Request four free over-the-counter tests for home delivery at
  • Access 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 health care professional at no cost. In addition to accessing a COVID-19 lab test ordered by a health care professional, people with Medicare can also already access one lab-performed test without an order, also without cost sharing, during the public health emergency.

In addition:

  • Medicare Advantage plans may offer coverage and payment for over-the-counter COVID-19 tests as a supplemental benefit in addition to covering Medicare Part A and Part B benefits, so Medicare beneficiaries covered by Medicare Advantage should check with their plan to see if it includes such a benefit.  
  • All Medicare beneficiaries with Part B are eligible for the new benefit, whether enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan or not.

For more information, please see these Frequently Asked Questions,