U.S. to cover cost of over-the-counter COVID tests through Medicare

Feb 3 (Reuters) - People enrolled in the U.S. government's Medicare program can get over-the-counter COVID-19 tests for free starting early spring, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said on Thursday.

The Biden administration laid out plans last month that require private insurance companies to cover the cost of eight over-the-counter at-home tests per person each month, but said nothing about such coverage for Medicare beneficiaries.

Under the new coverage plan announced on Thursday, Medicare and Medicare Advantage beneficiaries will be able to access up to eight over-the-counter COVID-19 tests per month for free.

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The latest announcement is a "positive" for those enrolled in Medicare plans, with the federal government covering costs directly, Evercore ISI analyst Michael Newshel said.

"The program is also a potential small positive for pharmacies to sell the tests to Medicare beneficiaries, though supply is limited and the window may be short depending when the public health emergency ends."

At least nine over-the-counter rapid antigen tests have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration including Abbott Laboratories' (ABT.N) BinaxNOW, OraSure Technologies Inc's (OSUR.O) InteliSwab and ACON Laboratories' FlowFlex.

Roche Holding AG and Quidel Corp (QDEL.O) are some of the others who make these tests.

Medicare is a federal program that provides healthcare payment coverage for people aged 65 and older, and younger people with permanent kidney failure.

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Reporting by Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli and Shounak Dasgupta

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