Editorial: Why isn't Medicare included among insurers required to cover home tests for COVID-19?

  • President Biden has ordered all private insurers to cover the cost of home tests for COVID-19, but the order does not extend to Medicare recipients.

    President Biden has ordered all private insurers to cover the cost of home tests for COVID-19, but the order does not extend to Medicare recipients. Associated Press File Photo

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted1/21/2022 1:00 AM

Remember those early days of the pandemic when we were all scrambling to find masks? Within a couple of months, the COVID-19 facial coverings were plentiful. Now you can get them in all manner of styles or designs, you probably have them stored in cabinet drawers, coat pockets and glove compartments and you see them littered like dirty banana peels all over suburban streets and store parking lots.

Eventually, it seems likely, we may experience a similar glut of home tests for COVID-19, and, frankly, we look forward to that day -- without the unsightly waste, of course. For the moment, though, the demand for tests is far outstripping the supply, and the effort to address that is missing some of our most vulnerable neighbors.


We're all familiar with the long lines at testing facilities, and when you can find home tests, a box of two can cost $25 to $35, a figure that can quickly become prohibitive for families, especially as the need grows to test periodically.

To address the problem, the government has made up to four tests available for free for every household in America. You can get your allotment easily online by logging in to https://www.covidtests.gov/. The tests are being delivered through the U.S. Postal Service, and are promised to arrive in a week to 12 days.

But four tests are not likely to last long for most households, and may not even cover everyone who needs one in larger families. Moreover, if you're exposed to someone with COVID-19 or attend a large gathering, you may have a more urgent need than can wait a week or two.

So, President Biden has also ordered that, with the help of the government, private insurers must cover the cost of tests. This is a valuable step, with one important shortcoming.

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The order does not apply to Medicare.

That's a perplexing omission, considering that Medicare recipients come from the age group most at risk of dying from or having serious reactions to COVID-19 and that by some estimates as many as one in four Medicare patients do not have supplemental insurance. For Medicare recipients to be covered, tests must be ordered by physicians or be taken at community health clinics or Medicare-certified health centers.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky expressed concern about the exclusion in a conversation last week with our Maria Gardner. She noted that many congressmen have begun calling for the Department of Health and Human Services to extend the insurance requirement to Medicare.

"These are people who are vulnerable, that want to have a test and often can't afford one," Schakowsky said.

Indeed. Our only question is, why the delay?

Someday, COVID-19 tests may be as common in our home first-aid kits as bandages and pain relievers. But right now, they're expensive and hard to find. It's great that government is working to make them more readily available. Why isn't it working faster to make them just as accessible to the population that needs them most?

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