Senior Safety: Medicare Doesn’t Cover Rapid Tests — Is Anything Being Done to Protect Seniors From COVID?

Senior woman sitting at home, studying the instructions for a self test for COVID-19. stock photo
Basilico Studio Stock /

Seniors are a particularly vulnerable group in terms of developing severe illness from COVID-19 infection, yet they will have a more difficult time obtaining free at-home COVID testing kits due to the nuances of Medicare coverage. For many senior citizens, economic pressures and underlying health issues can contribute to a further lack of access to preventative medicine and care.

The Biden administration announced back in December that private insurers would have to begin covering the cost of COVID rapid tests starting Jan. 15, 2022. This allotment would be in addition to the four tests being offered by the federal government, which are available to everyone.

This means that if you have private insurance, you will get an extra eight tests per month for your household — but if you’re on Medicare, you will not receive the same benefit. 

Antiquated Medicare bylaws could be to blame. Medicare Part A covers hospitalization, Part B is for provider-based services like doctor’s visits and lab work and Part D covers prescription drugs. Casey Schwarz, senior counsel for education and federal policy at the Medicare Rights Center, told NPR that Medicare “generally excludes over-the-counter things… so there’s a little bit of a question of where this type of benefit would fit.”

However, seniors pay out of pocket for certain parts of Medicare — just as other individuals pay out of pocket for private insurance. This leaves seniors paying for their own insurance but not receiving the same benefits others do, a reality which leaves some members of the vulnerable senior population wondering exactly what’s going on.

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Is Anything Currently Being Done to Fix Medicare Concerning the Lack of Free Rapid Tests?

Currently, there is no mandate to direct free tests to Medicare recipients specifically, but there are still things you can do to receive testing.

Every household, regardless of status, can go to to order free at-home rapid tests from the federal government. While it is not a lot, each household will receive at least four free tests. 

 “This is one of the most at-risk populations, and to not have the opportunity to buy at-home tests and get reimbursed puts this whole population on their back foot,” said Juliette Cubanski, deputy director of the program on Medicare policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, NPR reports.

Up to 50 million additional free at-home tests are being directed to community health centers and Medicare-certified health clinics by the Biden administration — but there are 62 million people on Medicare’s ledger.

It is important to note that Medicare recipients can receive free PCR testing and rapid antigen tests if said tests are ordered by their doctor. While not nearly as convenient as doing the test by yourself at home, it is still a service provided in helping to stop the spread of the virus. There are more than 10,000 free testing sites set up throughout the country that are open to the general public.

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