Coronavirus Testing: Coverage, Costs, What You Need to Know

free covid-19 testing

After some debate, Trump has announced that COVID-19 testing will be made free by Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance plans. This means no copays for insurance beneficiaries. 

– President Trump and Pence speaking on COVID-19 testing and health insurances, today, March 10, 2020.. 

Under the Affordable Care Act, an act placed by the Obama administration that makes health insurance available to more people, health insurance plans must cover essential health benefits

Though this is great news for all beneficiaries of Medicare, Medicaid, or a private insurance, that leaves out-of-pocket costs as a barrier to getting tested for people who are uninsured or underinsured and may be infected with COVID-19. People with high-deductible plans, which require patients spend a set amount toward healthcare before coverage kicks in, could also be hit with testing costs.

Those financial burdens could potentially lead to some people forgoing testing, inevitably perpetuating the spreading of the virus. 

Democratic chairs of the House Oversight Committee wrote the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) about this issue, asking how HHS plans to ensure that the uninsured and underinsured are tested and treated for COVID-19. 

-tweet from presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders on the matter, March 9, 2020

States and city officials across the country are working hard to do what they can to test more people possible. The recent designation of the COVID-19 test as an essential health benefit will remove the cost for insured patients associated with the test, at least. 

“We have a patchwork quilt that’s full of holes that’s our healthcare system and it is not well-designed for dealing with a public health crisis like this one,” said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University.

Coronavirus funding

On Friday, March 6, President Trump signed the coronavirus funding bill for $8.3 billion in response to fighting the virus in all directions. In comparison, Congress put $5.4 billion toward the Ebola response in 2014 and nearly $7 billion for H1N1 in 2009 — though, of course, each epidemic is different and requires a different response.

The bill’s $8.3 billion will be dispersed as such: $950 million for state and local health departments, $300 million to buy vaccines and treatments, and $1.25 billion for international activities. 

Holes in the plan

The announcement of diagnostic tests being covered by many private insurers and Medicare and Medicaid is a good start, but there will be many other expenses associated with COVID-19 care.

For instance, if someone is compelled to stay isolated in a hospital for 14 days, who is to pay for that? That question is especially pressing for the more than 70 million Americans who don’t have health insurance or are underinsured.

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