COVID-19 Update

For the latest information on how to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 infection, please visit CDC.gov.

At-Home Testing

How do I get over-the-counter (OTC) COVID-19 tests through Medicare at no cost?

As of April 4, 2022, Medicare will cover up to eight over-the-counter (OTC) COVID-19 tests per calendar month at no cost to you when the tests are obtained from participating pharmacies and healthcare providers. Tests are covered for people with Medicare Part B, including those enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans.

Coverage begins April 4, 2022, and continues until the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) ends. Medicare won’t provide payment for over-the-counter COVID-19 tests obtained prior to April 4, 2022.

The tests are covered through a government program, outside of your Essence plan benefits. Essence doesn’t provide additional coverage for OTC COVID-19 tests and won’t reimburse you for tests that you purchase on your own.

Check with your pharmacy or healthcare provider to see if they’re participating in the program and able to bill Medicare for the tests. If so, they can provide your tests and will bill Medicare on your behalf. Many of the participating pharmacies are in our network, but the pharmacy doesn’t need to be in our network for you to get the tests from them.

A partial list of participating pharmacies can be found at https://medicare.gov/Medicare-Coronavirus. CVS, Walmart, Walgreens, Costco, Rite-Aid, Kroger, Hy-Vee, Albertsons and other large chain pharmacies are participating. You can also call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) to get information about where to find a test.

What other ways can I get COVID-19 tests outside of Medicare?
  • Order up to two sets of four at-home tests per household by visiting COVID.gov/Tests.
  • Get no-cost COVID-19 tests through healthcare providers at testing sites nationwide. Visit HHS.gov/Coronavirus/Community-Based-Testing-Sites/Index.html to find a site near you.
  • Get PCR and antigen tests through a lab at no cost when a doctor or other healthcare professional orders it for you.
  • During the COVID-19 PHE, get one lab-performed test without a healthcare professional’s order—at no cost.

Call 1-800-Medicare (1-800-633-4227) with any questions about this initiative. TTY users can call 1-877-486-2048.

Vaccine Status

Anyone over the age of 5 is eligible to receive one of the COVID-19 vaccines, which are highly effective in preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19 infection. Additionally, people ages 12 and up can receive a COVID-19 booster shot (and a second booster shot in some instances) to help maintain protective immunity.

You can receive the Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna booster at least five months after your completion of the two-dose Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or at least two months after your Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine. The Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine is not recommended for use as a booster at this time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has approved an additional (second) COVID-19 booster for anyone over the age of 50 and for certain immunocompromised individuals ages 12 and up. The Pfizer BioNTech booster can be used for immunocompromised individuals ages 12 and up, and the Moderna booster can be used for those ages 18 and up. To receive a second booster, at least four months must have passed since your first booster shot.

For information about dominant strains of COVID-19, statistics and other helpful COVID-19-related information, please visit CDC.gov.

Addressing Vaccine Myths and Concerns

Rest assured that COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and offer the best chance at staying healthy throughout this pandemic. We understand that myths and concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine can lead to hesitation or resistance. If you know someone with reservations about getting the vaccine, we’re happy to provide some clarity that you can share. Each vaccinated person gets us one step closer to the end of this pandemic.

  1. I’m afraid of the long-term side effects of a rushed vaccine.
    COVID-19 vaccines are among the most closely scrutinized and intensely studied interventions in medical history. To date, over 10 billion doses have been administered worldwide and dozens of studies have been published with millions of participants with no evidence of major safety concerns.
  2. I’ve already had COVID-19, so I’m protected.
    Though you develop antibodies from being infected with COVID-19, that doesn’t mean you’ll never become sick with the virus again. It’s currently not known how long you’re protected from getting COVID-19 after you’ve had it. There’s evidence that unvaccinated people who have had COVID-19 are twice as likely to get COVID-19 than people who are fully vaccinated.
  3. I don’t have to worry if I’m not immunocompromised or elderly.
    While it’s true that elderly people and people with underlying health conditions are at greater risk of severe infection from COVID-19, many young and middle-aged adults without pre-existing conditions have had severe infection from COVID-19, and many have died. One in every three unvaccinated people that get infected have symptoms that linger for months—even if they don’t have a severe case. These symptoms can range from long-term loss of taste and smell to disabling effects like blood clots, shortness of breath or fatigue. COVID-NET, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) population-based surveillance system for COVID-19 hospitalizations, lists COVID-19 data by age group, health condition, deaths and many more factors. Visit CDC.gov/Coronavirus/2019-ncov/Covid-Data/Covid-net/Purpose-Methods.html to see the growing numbers.
  4. I think the media is making COVID-19 seem worse than it actually is.
    There’s an overwhelming amount of evidence (studies, research, self-reported symptoms, etc.) that prove the seriousness of COVID-19. There are trustworthy sources who report accurate, truthful information and findings. One such source is the CDC. For statistics that are updated weekly, visit CDC.gov/Coronavirus/2019-ncov/Covid-Data/CovidView/Index.html. In the media, we see a lot of reports about the COVID-19 death toll, but one thing that isn’t widely reported is that 30 percent of unvaccinated people who get COVID-19 will have long-term symptoms. Vaccination protects you from getting infected, hospitalized and even dying; it also significantly prevents long-term symptoms of COVID infection.
  5. I’m afraid the vaccine will infect me with COVID-19.
    No COVID-19 vaccine contains the live virus. This means that you can’t become infected with COVID-19 from getting the vaccine. You can develop some symptoms from the vaccine, such as fever, body aches and headache, which means your body is building an immune response to help protect against the live virus if you were to come into contact with it.

Where to Get the Vaccine

Missouri/Illinois Residents

COVID-19 vaccines are offered in Missouri and Illinois for anyone age 5 and up and are available at nearly any pharmacy. There is no cost for the vaccine.

To see nearby locations and even filter by vaccine manufacturer, visit:

Missouri
Illinois

California Residents

COVID-19 vaccines are offered in California for anyone age 5 and up and are available at nearly any pharmacy. There is no cost for the vaccine.

See nearby locations and choose by vaccine manufacturer