A group that represents a half-million retired state and local government workers on Monday urged the federal government to expand access to free COVID-19 tests to include people on Medicare. 

The Retired Public Employees Association, an organization that represents retired public employees in New York state, pointed to the Biden administration's policy of having over-the-counter COVID-19 tests be covered by insurance and group plans, but excludes Medicare recipients. Many of their members are on fixed incomes, making such a rule inconvenient to a segment of the population that is older, and more vulnerable to COVID-19.

“If any portion of the population is most at risk from the effects of COVID infection, it is the elderly," said Edward Farrell, the group's executive director. "That has been the case from day one of the outbreak. It does not make sense to preclude that group from going to the local pharmacy to obtain eight free tests per month to be administered in the convenience of their home. It is discriminatory based purely on age and should be immediately reversed.”

The Empire Plan, which is part of the New York State Health Insurance Program, has voluntarily offered to cover test kits for those enrolled in Medicare.

The association on Monday released a letter to New York's congressional delegation, urging federal lawmakers to address the issue, calling the problem "discriminatory based on age." 

The federal government this month began to allow people to receive insurance reimbursements for rapid COVID-19 tests that can be administered at home. The tests without insurance can cost around $25. 

Testing for COVID-19 has been seen as key for people amid the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant. Though considered less severe for people who have been fully vaccinated and received a booster shot, the variant has led to a sharp spike in cases and people hospitalized with COVID-19 in recent weeks. 

The case increase in New York has started to abate in recent days after reaching record levels in January.