After it became increasingly clear that the White House’s efforts to expand access to free testing didn’t make it easy for older Americans who need the tests the most, the administration has decided to rectify it.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced Thursday that Medicare beneficiaries who have the Part B benefit will be able to get up to eight over-the-counter COVID-19 tests  per month at no costs starting in early spring. Tests will be available through eligible pharmacies and other participating entities. The policy will apply to COVID-19 over-the-counter tests approved or authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

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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,” the agency said in the announcement.

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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.

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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.

Meanwhile, Medicare beneficiaries can access free tests via, free community-based testing sites,  or lab-based PCR tests when ordered by a clinician.