'Free' COVID-19 tests may come with a catch

While new federal guidelines require insurers to cover the cost of COVID-19 testing, many Americans may face charges for other tests needed to rule out other illnesses, according to NPR.

COVID-19 testing is still not widely available to most patients. If patients see their physician to check if they have COVID-19, they will likely face several other tests to see if their symptoms are caused by other respiratory disease like influenza before they are eligible for a COVID-19 test.

In one story shared with NPR, a graduate student at West Virginia University in Morgantown was charged $2,121 for a visit and testing related to COVID-19 symptoms. The student ultimately tested positive for influenza B. Her insurance initially paid for $1,584.54 of the services, leaving the student on the hook for copay and other cost-sharing. Eventually the insurer covered all the claims after receiving information that the services were related to COVID-19 testing.

Current guidelines only require insurers to cover an appointment if a physician orders and administers a COVID-19 test. Sabrina Corlette, co-director of the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., told NPR if patients present with COVID-19 symptoms but receive other tests to rule it out, they could be responsible for those charges. 

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