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Over-the-counter COVID tests will soon be free for Medicare recipients

COVID-19 at-home rapid test kits are seen in Los Angeles on Jan. 7.
Mario Tama
Getty Images
COVID-19 at-home rapid test kits are seen in Los Angeles on Jan. 7.

The Biden administration said that Medicare recipients will be able to get up to eight tests a month, free of charge.

Medicare and Medicare Advantage recipients will be eligible for free over-the-counter COVID-19 tests beginning in early spring, the Biden administration announced on Thursday.

The plan will allow for up to eight tests a month, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said in a media release Thursday.

Medicare is the federal health insurance program for Americans aged 65 and older, some younger Americans with disabilities and those with certain illnesses.

"This is the first time that Medicare has covered an over-the-counter test at no cost to beneficiaries," CMS wrote in the release.

"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 Biden administration has faced criticism for its handling of certain aspects of the pandemic, including for its response to providing free, easily accessible testing for all Americans.

In response, the federal government announced that beginning earlier this year, Americans would be able to request four, free at-home tests to be delivered directly to their doors. The administration purchased a half-billion tests to support that effort.

Biden has for months acknowledged the fatigue many COVID-weary Americans are feeling as the pandemic enters its third spring. But in his first formal press conference of the new year, Biden admitted that his team should have done more on testing sooner.

"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," CMS said.

Individuals with private insurance plans have been able to apply for reimbursement for tests, up to eight per person, per month, since last month.

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Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.