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COVID-19

Congress said COVID-19 tests should be free, but who might end up paying?

Blake Farmer Jun 3, 2020
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Vanderbilt University Medical Center has been holding back many bills related to COVID-19 testing for fear of a backlash from patients, who might be surprised that they owe anything. Blake Farmer/WPLN
COVID-19

Congress said COVID-19 tests should be free, but who might end up paying?

Blake Farmer Jun 3, 2020
Heard on:
Vanderbilt University Medical Center has been holding back many bills related to COVID-19 testing for fear of a backlash from patients, who might be surprised that they owe anything. Blake Farmer/WPLN
HTML EMBED:
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COVID-19 testing was supposed to be free to everyone. Congress prohibited copays and deductibles. But hospitals are finding that many self-funded health plans with large employers are still sending out the bills.

These are larger employers that work with insurance companies, but essentially self-insure. So instead of buying insurance for their workers, they just pay for employee medical costs. This includes roughly half of all health plans.

Michael Thompson represents many of them as CEO of the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions. He says some employer plans are still charging copays for the doctor’s visit or a test to rule out the flu.

“They may or may not have included the related treatment elements,” he said.

Heather Dunn at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville fears a backlash. So as the vice president of revenue cycle services, she said she’s just sitting on millions of dollars of bills for COVID-19 testing.

“I know I’m supposed to be shaking everybody down, but we’re not right now,” Dunn said.

Duke Health in North Carolina confirmed it’s doing the same thing. Envision, which runs emergency rooms around the country, has more than 200,000 bills that it’s not sending because of this confusion.

Dunn said she worries about the patients just recovering from COVID or losing their jobs.

“I’m hesitant to also say, ‘By the way, your insurance company has passed along this $50 copay. How would you like to do that?'” she said.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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