Medicare to Start Paying for At-Home COVID Tests

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  • Although private insurers began covering at-home COVID tests in January, that didn't extend to Medicare.
  • But now, Medicare has reassessed its policy and will soon start paying for rapid tests.

Here's some good news for older Americans.

It's no secret the omicron surge has wreaked havoc on Americans all over the country. And as such, the demand for testing has soared. But while it can take days for the results of a PCR test to come back, the beauty of rapid tests is they give you an answer on the spot.

Furthermore, for some people, getting a PCR test is no easy feat. It can mean having to make their way to an urgent care center or testing site -- a tough ask for those who don't drive or own a vehicle -- and also, potentially having to endure long lines and wait times. The upside of rapid tests is they're available in most pharmacies and can be taken in the comfort of home.

For months, many people had no choice but to pay for at-home COVID tests out of pocket. But in January, the rules changed, dictating that private insurance companies would need to start reimbursing enrollees for those kits.

That rule didn't apply to Medicare, though. While seniors on Medicare are entitled to PCR testing at no cost, the same doesn't apply to at-home COVID tests. But that's about to change.

A lifeline for Medicare enrollees

Seniors on Medicare are often limited to a fixed income, and some don't have much in the way of savings. Paying out of pocket for at-home COVID tests has no doubt been a burden.

But starting early this spring, Medicare will start covering the cost of rapid tests. Once that change kicks in, it'll relieve one source of financial stress for seniors.

There are an estimated 63.3 million people enrolled in Medicare, and most are 65 years old or older. Since older people are also at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, it's especially important they have access to testing as needed.

The price of at-home COVID tests can vary from retailer to retailer, but it's common to pay anywhere from $20 to $30 for a pack of two tests. That's a cost that could add up quickly for anyone looking to get tested on a weekly basis. The fact Medicare will soon absorb that cost is great news for enrollees on a tight budget.

There are free at-home tests available, too

While seniors may need to wait a little longer for Medicare to cover the cost of the tests they purchase at pharmacies, there are other options for procuring free at-home COVID tests. For one thing, the Biden Administration recently made free rapid tests available to the general public, which can beordered through the USPS website.

Plus, those enrolled in Medicare Advantage may already be eligible for free at-home test kits. Medicare Advantage plans are administered through private insurance companies and serve as an alternative to original Medicare. They often come with additional benefits that original Medicare doesn't provide, so those with an Advantage plan should check their coverage and see what testing options they're entitled to.

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