Early Coronavirus Testing Restrictions Led To Some Big ER Bills

By Consumers For Quality Care, on July 8, 2020

Early Coronavirus Testing Restrictions Led To Some Big ER Bills

Big medical bills for testing undergone during the early phases of the coronavirus pandemic have become commonplace for many patients, according to a report by NPR.

John Campbell, who lives in Florida, developed a cough and fever in early March – before anyone realized how bad the coronavirus pandemic would become. After a flu test came back negative, his doctor told him he needed to go to the ER as a matter of “public health.”

Doctors, dressed in protective gear, ran a series of tests that all came back negative. Campbell was sent home without ever getting swabbed for coronavirus because he hadn’t recently traveled to China, which was a criterion at the time for coronavirus testing.

The next month, Campbell was hit with a bill for $2,777. Campbell is one of many patients who say they were wrongly billed for testing associated with COVID-19.

While Congress passed a bill that promises insurers will cover the cost of testing and services related to COVID-19, waiving costs is only required when a test is ordered or administered. Since testing in the early phases was extremely limited, many patients who had milder symptoms or hadn’t traveled overseas were left on the hook for paying their medical bills.

“These loopholes exist,” says Wendell Potter, a former insurance industry executive who is now an industry critic. “We’re just relying on these companies to act in good faith.”

Kaiser Health News asked nine health insurers how they were handling these situations. While responses varied, all nine insurers said that patients who suspect a billing error should appeal a claim. It was also clear, according to the report, that much of the burden falls on the patient.

Meanwhile, Rayone Moyer, who lives in Wisconsin and has diabetes, went to the hospital after she got sick and had a hard time breathing. While there, she was never tested for COVID-19, but was billed over $2,421 for an array of other tests.

“My insurance applied the whole thing to my deductible,” Moyer says. “Because they refused to test me, I’ve got to pay the bill. No one said, ‘Hey, we’ll give you $3,000 worth of tests instead of the $100 COVID test,'” she says.

Moyer filed an appeal and expects a review later this month. Meanwhile, Campbell was told that he should have never been billed and all of his costs will be covered.