Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined 18 of her Senate colleagues in urging the Biden administration to require Medicare to pay for rapid COVID tests. The letter follows the administration’s recent guidance requiring private insurance companies to cover the cost of up to 8 rapid over-the-counter COVID tests per month. Extending this requirement to Medicare would ensure that an additional 61 million Americans enrolled in Medicare and Medicare Advantage, including those at highest risk of severe illness, have equal access to testing amidst a surge in COVID cases and hospitalizations across the country.
“Right now, millions of New Yorkers enrolled in Medicare can’t get coverage for rapid COVID tests,” said Senator Gillibrand. “As cities and towns across the state continue to battle the Omicron variant, we must ensure that everyone has free and easy access to testing – not just those with private insurance. I urge the Biden administration to immediately expand its guidance to require Medicare to cover the cost of over-the-counter COVID tests for all beneficiaries.”
The letter was also signed by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jack Reed (D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Bob Casey (D-PA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Angus King (I-ME), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Mark Warner (D-VA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
The full text of the letter can be found here or below:
Dear Secretary Becerra and Administrator Brooks-LaSure:
Thank you for all your work to increase access to free COVID-19 tests around the country, including your recent guidance requiring most insurance companies to cover the cost of up to eight over-the-counter at-home tests per person per month. We strongly encourage you to extend coverage to Medicare, ensuring access for the 61 million Americans enrolled in the program.
Along with vaccination, the widespread availability of free tests will help us defeat this pandemic. That is why we strongly support the Administration’s work over the past year to increase the testing supply and lower costs. A year ago, there were no at-home rapid tests on the market. Today, there are hundreds of millions being distributed around the US, including the Administration’s purchase of 500 million tests with funding included in the American Rescue Plan, and the planned purchase of 500 million more.
Required coverage of testing ordered by a physician, expansion of free testing sites through pharmacies and community health centers, and free at-home rapid tests available through COVIDTests.gov or 1-800-232-0233 are big steps forward, including for seniors. Recent CMS guidance requiring coverage of eight over-the-counter at-home tests per person per month will significantly expand access to millions of Americans with commercial health insurance. However, those enrolled in original Medicare and private Medicare Advantage plans do not have this same access. Seniors and people with disabilities enrolled in Medicare are at the highest risk of severe illness from COVID-19, and people over 65 account for nearly three-quarters of all deaths from the virus. The current policy leaves them on the hook for potentially significant out-of-pocket costs.
We share your commitment to making sure Medicare enrollees receive the highest quality health care, including access to free at-home rapid COVID-19 testing, and look forward to working with you to address this issue.