The Medicare 'free' at-home COVID virus test boondoggle

Medicare recipients at first were left out of the "free" COVID tests that private insurers were required to provide.  Well, now we old folks are included among those able to grab eight free tests per month.  The New York Times reports:

Medicare, which covers roughly 60 million Americans, will provide free over-the-counter rapid coronavirus tests beginning in the spring, according to the federal government's Medicare and Medicaid agency.

The policy would "allow Medicare beneficiaries to pick up tests at no cost at the point of sale and without needing to be reimbursed," the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Thursday, adding that it would be the first time Medicare covered the whole cost of an over-the-counter test.

The announcement followed weeks of clamor from lawmakers and health care advocates, who argued that Medicare recipients had been passed over in the administration's push to require private insurers to cover the tests.

Under the plan, which will also apply to Medicare Advantage beneficiaries, Medicare will pay eligible pharmacies and health providers to offer the tests. The administration did not say how many pharmacies would participate.

I guess they will need to set up and maintain a national database with real-time access by participating pharmacies to make sure we don't get more of the freebies than we're entitled to.  With 8 tests per month x 12 months x 60 million people on Medicare, that's up to 6 billion tests per year.  At, say, $5 wholesale per test, that could be a cool $30 billion in annual revenue for the companies making them.  They might advertise the hell out of it with public service announcements like, "Hey, get your free tests!  Be prepared, get your free tests!"  Medicare will need to pay a higher amount per test based on whatever markup it negotiates with the retail pharmacies.  How much earlier will the program go broke?

And I just can't wait for the free COVID test telephone solicitations to join the multiple-times-a-day calls I get offering braces and other free Medicare merchandise for the common medical conditions they (wrongly) state that their "records" show that I have.

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