Medicare not paying for at-home COVID tests for seniors despite new government rules

ByTim Johns KGO logo
Friday, January 21, 2022
Medicare not paying for at-home COVID tests for seniors
Medicare is not paying for at-home coronavirus tests for seniors, despite a new Biden Administration requirement for insurance companies to do so.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- For Janette Bissada, the cost of the pandemic has been high.

For the better part of two years, the East Bay senior has stayed home, being mindful of COVID safety protocols and testing when necessary.

That's why, after the Biden Administration required insurance companies to cover the costs of at-home COVID tests, Bissada says she was shocked to find out Medicare wasn't doing the same.

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"I just think something that small, it was not a good choice. And that's what really got me I think, was why? Why this?" she said.

But it's not just herself that she's worried about.

Bissada says she also worries about her family members, some of whom are too young to be vaccinated.

"We're always aware that they have a baby that's only six weeks old, my newest grandson. And I would be horrified if something ever happened," Bissada said.

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Some Bay Area residents say ordering their free COVID-19 tests from the federal government has been a challenge, already raising concerns of equity.

Under rules that took effect Saturday, private insurance companies must pay for up to eight at-home tests per person, per month.

But in a statement sent to ABC7 News, Medicare says they only pay for tests done at testing sites.

Their statement reads, in part:

"We continue to explore the best ways to provide critical resources that will keep Medicare beneficiaries safe and healthy. While at this time original Medicare cannot pay for at-home tests, testing remains a critical tool to help mitigate the spread of COVID. That's why we have made lab-based PCR tests, rapid PCR tests, and rapid point-of-care antigen tests available through healthcare providers at over 20,000 free testing sites nationwide."

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But Bissada says she doesn't think that's right, and says many seniors don't have the means to get to testing sites on a regular basis.

"As a senior it is much more difficult for a lot of them to get out and go to a testing center and even find one," Bissada said.

It's a view that's also shared by local physicians, some of whom say testing should be universally accessible.

"It's not about individual health only. It's about the health of your neighbors, your population, your loved ones," said Doctor Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at UCSF.

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Bissada says the cost of testing could be hundreds of dollars over the coming months if the pandemic doesn't subside.

A price she's willing to pay to keep her family safe, but one she worries not every senior may be able to afford.

"It is an expense they may not be able to incur, and what I can see is them not getting tested," Bissada said.