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Free at-home COVID tests end May 11 for some. How to stock up

The expiration of the national COVID-19 public health emergency next week will mean the end of free at-home tests for some, though many Californians will still be able to get their hands on screening kits.

At the end of the scheduled May 11 sunset date, a federal rule requiring insurers to reimburse policyholders for the cost of up to eight at-home COVID tests per month will end.

This tightening of the testing tap will affect some Medicare beneficiaries and threatens to limit or cut off access to no-cost testing across a swath of the country.

But in California, state lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom have taken steps to avoid that scenario.

Here’s what you need to know:

How will testing access change?

For many in California, there won’t be any near-term changes. State legislators have already ordered health insurers to continue reimbursement for eight monthly at-home tests for most health plans.

What are the details?

Following the passage of Senate Bills 510 and 1473, health plans regulated by the California Department of Managed Health Care will still be required to cover the costs of eight over-the-counter rapid tests a month for each person insured.

Besides employer-based healthcare coverage, this includes Medi-Cal-managed plans and Covered California plans.

Starting Nov. 11, insurers regulated by the state Department of Managed Health Care still must cover COVID tests if they’re provided in network, but can charge for tests purchased out of network.

This covers most insured Californians, including those with plans through their employers — but not everyone. For instance, it’s possible Medicare beneficiaries in the state could lose access.

What’s the situation with Medicare?

Medicare has said its beneficiaries’ access to free over-the-counter tests will end on the evening of May 11, so there’s still time to stock up before then. Some pharmacies allow walk-in customers to request no-cost tests.

However, Medicare beneficiaries may have other insurance that will still cover at-home COVID tests.

Additionally, Medicare will still cover, for free, coronavirus lab tests that are ordered by a healthcare provider, even after May 11.

“If you are enrolled in Medicare Part B, you will continue to have coverage with no out-of-pocket costs for appropriate laboratory-based COVID-19 PCR and antigen tests, when a provider orders them (such as drive-through PCR and antigen testing or testing in a provider’s office),” Medicare said in a statement. “If you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, you may have more access to tests depending on your benefits. Check with your plan.”

How can I claim no-cost tests?

Contact your insurer for details on getting reimbursed for at-home COVID tests. You can buy tests, submit a claim form for reimbursement and get a check in the mail. The federal rule that expires May 11 reimburses up to $12 per individual test (some test kits include two tests per box).

Kaiser Permanente is giving California members an option to receive up to eight tests per month for free through the mail, which will continue not only after May 11, but also after Nov. 11.

Free at-home tests tests will continue to be available in a host of locations, including Los Angeles County libraries, vaccination sites run by the county Department of Public Health, food banks and senior centers.

Residents also can use the state’s portal, MyTurn.ca.gov/testing, to find a COVID-19 testing site near them.

L.A. County seniors 65 and older or people unable to leave their home can request two free tests be mailed to them.



This story originally appeared on LA Times

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