Medicare to cover free COVID-19 tests in early spring


Jernej Furman | Flickr

Zena Mohamed

The Biden administration announced that all Medicare beneficiaries can receive free over-the counter COVID-19 tests beginning in early spring.

This is the first time the federal health care insurance program will cover free coronavirus tests for its recipients. More than 60 million Americans will be elligible to receive up to eight COVID19 tests each month.

Medicare will pay pharmacies and health care providers for beneficiaries to pick up free test kits at any time. These tests will be available at participating pharmacies, which include CVS, Rite Aid and other local entities.

There have been various issues with the distribution of free testing kits prior to the Biden Administration’s latest effort to expand free testing.  Previously the administration faced a tremendous amount of criticism for its exclusion of Medicare from its initial requirement for private insurers to cover the costs of at-home COVID-19 tests.

“The announcement followed weeks of clamor from lawmakers and health care advocates, who argued that Medicare recipients had been passed over in the administration’s push to require private insurers to cover the tests,” Noah Weiland of The New York Times reported.   Medicare benefits often have numerous laws and regulations that make it difficult to propose such services. Recently, there was an arrangement to cover this initiative by using the program’s legal authority to make the proposal go through.

The federal government announced last month that all Americans would be able to order four free COVID-19 test kits through a government-run website called, which would be delivered directly to their homes.

According to the Biden administration, there have been tens of millions of free rapid tests mailed to residents as part of this program.

Many, however, have asserted that this program is not enough, especially for vulnerable populations. There is also a considerable element of unpredictability with COVID-19, as evidenced by the sudden rise of the omicron variant.

The New York Times noted free testing covered by Medicare will not be accessible to the program’s beneficiaries until early spring, when the omicron variant is likely to have lessened. But this does not mean the influx of tests this spring will come too late, as there is always the possibility of sudden surges in cases.

Recently, new treatments for coronavirus have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for adults and pediatric patients. Those infected with the virus, however, must consider treatment options as soon as possible after their diagnosis as  the prescribed medication may not work as effectively if not taken as directed.

The majority of those enrolled in Medicare are 65 and older, or younger individuals with  disabilities. Therefore, it is essential that the most vulnerable populations have access to free, quick and secure testing.

Beneficiaries have only been able to get free tests through prescriptions or testing sites which many deem inadequate. Additionally, many have struggledto attain proper access to services put forth by their health insurance programs.

“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,” Nancy LeaMond, an AARP official said.

In the meantime, people can go to over 20,000 free testing sites through the use of their health care providers. Those with Medicare also have access to lab-based PCR tests and rapid antigen tests at no cost when ordered by their physician, pharmacist and other medical practitioners.