Coronavirus Testing: Surprise Expenses and What Medicare Covers

coronavirus test

Now that coronavirus (COVID-19) tests are available, how much are they going to cost you? While the test is free, you could receive a bill later for the medical care you receive if you test positive.

What is coronavirus?

Most of the people who have been infected with the COVID-19 virus have experienced mild respiratory illness and can recover without special treatment. However, if you are older and have preexisting conditions, you are at a higher risk of developing a more serious illness that leads to pneumonia and other complications.

COVID-19 primarily spreads through saliva and nose discharge by an infected person. Currently, there are no vaccines or treatments for COVID-19. However, there are several clinical trials in the process.

What is the coronavirus test?

The United States has two main types of tests used for COVID-19: molecular and serological.

Molecular tests were the first type of test for COVID-19. The FDA has authorized 22 companies to distribute the molecular tests. The molecular test is conducted by inserting a six-inch swab into the back of the nasal passage through one nostril at a time and rotating the swab several times for 15 seconds. Each swab is then sent to a lab for testing in a safe container. 

More recently, the FDA also authorized a molecular test that uses saliva instead of swabs. These new tests are just as accurate as the swab-based tests, and are predicted to ease the shortage of swab tests available.

The tests can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days for results, and the tests are very accurate.

Serological tests are being developed and can identify if someone was previously infected.

There are current efforts to bring in tests developed by other countries and develop new ones in the U.S.

Serological tests detect antibodies in a blood sample. The tests do not need special equipment since a simple finger prick will suffice. 

These tests can give results in about 15 minutes and are more accurate in identifying previous infections rather than current ones.

How much does it cost?

Insurers have started to waive out-of-pocket costs if you need to go to the hospital right now, and that could reduce your bills significantly. However, there is no clear amount as to how much you could still end up paying for medical care.

Congress passed new legislation that allows coronavirus testing to be free along with the trip to the doctor or emergency room for the test.

What does Medicare cover?

If you have Medicare or Medicaid coverage, both programs will cover the costs of coronavirus testing. You will pay nothing out of pocket. Medicare is paying between $36 to $51 per test.

Talk to your doctor and healthcare provider about the services you receive beforehand to avoid getting stuck with a hefty medical bill down the road.

How to get tested

Those who are uninsured may be able to get a free COVID-19 test several different ways. You can visit an outpatient facility that is receiving relief funding. Another option to consider is going through Medicaid. States are able to use Medicaid to cover the costs of testing on uninsured residents who qualify.

Some may be able to get a free COVID-19 test through the National Disaster Medical System.

The system treats patients and charges the federal government for the services administered.

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