COVID-19

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

Blake Farmer Jun 3, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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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
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
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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

New COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. are on the rise. How are Americans reacting?

Johns Hopkins University reports the seven-day average of new cases hit 68,767 on Sunday  — a record — eclipsing the previous record hit in late July during the second, summer wave of infection. A funny thing is happening with consumers though: Even as COVID-19 cases rise, Americans don’t appear to be shying away from stepping indoors to shop or eat or exercise. Morning Consult asked consumers how comfortable they feel going out to eat, to the shopping mall or on a vacation. And their willingness has been rising. Surveys find consumers’ attitudes vary by age and income, and by political affiliation, said Chris Jackson, who heads up polling at Ipsos.

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

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