As the COVID-19 public health emergency comes to an end, Senators note seniors, people with disabilities still vulnerable to infection
Casey pushed for Medicare to cover at-home COVID-19 tests in 2022 letter
Washington, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) led a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra urging HHS to continue providing Medicare coverage for rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests after the public health emergency expires on May 11. The Senators note that seniors and people with disabilities remain vulnerable to COVID-19 infection but could find themselves without critical public health tools. As the Nation rebuilds its economy while recovering from the pandemic, continued access to and affordability of at-home testing is critical to ensuring older adults and people with disabilities can be included in rebuilding efforts as active members of the workforce.
“Easy access to testing with quick results has prevented the spread of COVID-19, reduced severe infection, and enabled many Americans to resume normal life…Ending Medicare coverage for at-home COVID-19 tests could undo much of this progress and make it harder for Medicare beneficiaries to obtain accurate and timely information about their health. For example, without coverage under Medicare, many older Americans will not be able to afford to pay out-of-pocket for these critical tests and simply won’t test,” the Senators wrote.
In January 2022, Senator Casey sent a letter to Secretary Becerra and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to advocate for robust Medicare coverage of at-home COVID-19 tests. 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 the majority of deaths from the virus. Without Medicare coverage, they could be on the hook for potentially significant out of-pocket costs.
U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Jack Reed (D-RI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Angus King (I-ME), Tina Smith (D-MN), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), and Mark Warner (D-VA) also signed onto today’s letter to HHS Secretary Becerra.
Read the letter here and below.
The Honorable Xavier Becerra
Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, D.C. 20201
Dear Secretary Becerra:
We commend the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for taking the important step of providing Medicare coverage for at-home COVID-19 diagnostic tests at no cost to beneficiaries, and we call on the Department to extend this critical coverage. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) at-home COVID-19 testing demonstration program has improved the health and wellbeing of Medicare beneficiaries around the country. It also ensured that Medicare beneficiaries have access to the same benefits as those with private insurance. As HHS determines which programs created during the public health emergency (PHE) should be maintained, we ask you to consider continuing to provide coverage for at-home tests beyond the PHE.
We appreciate that HHS’s hard work has protected the lives of countless older adults and people with disabilities. Despite the PHE being set to expire on May 11, 2023, seniors continue to live with the real threat of COVID-19 but could find themselves without this critical public health protection.
At-home diagnostic tests play an important role in helping identify and isolate cases of COVID-19. These tests allow people to test themselves as a precaution or when they first present symptoms, facilitating the delivery of timely, appropriate follow-up care such as a visit with a health care professional or the prescription of antiviral therapy. Easy access to testing with quick results has prevented the spread of COVID-19, reduced severe infection, and enabled many Americans to resume normal life.
Ending Medicare coverage for at-home COVID-19 tests could undo much of this progress and make it harder for Medicare beneficiaries to obtain accurate and timely information about their health. For example, without coverage under Medicare, many older Americans will not be able to afford to pay out-of-pocket for these critical tests and simply won’t test.
CMS’ demonstration program to cover at-home tests is slated to end along with the PHE. In addition to the issues identified above, we are concerned that CMS is preparing to end a program that has not been appropriately studied or evaluated yet. It is our understanding that CMS is presently conducting an evaluation of the demonstration and while it remains unclear when that evaluation will be complete, it is not expected before May 11. CMS should be making data-driven decisions, particularly on matters of this significance.
We ask HHS to provide us with information on its authority under Section 402 to conduct this demonstration and any basis for the belief that Section 402 does not provide the authority to continue the demonstration, as well as plans to potentially continue coverage of at-home COVID-19 diagnostic tests beyond the end of the PHE.
Thank you again for your work to improve the lives of older Americans. We look forward to continuing to work together to alleviate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and provide Medicare beneficiaries with what they need to stay healthy.