Ask your provider what they’ll bill you for
When patients receive a surprise medical bill related to a coronavirus test, often the charges they face are not for the test itself, but for other services that the patient may not have known about.
Some of these make sense: Many bills for coronavirus tests have fees for the doctor visit that went along with it. Others make less sense, like the bills that include screenings for sexually transmitted diseases. Those extra fees appear to be a bit more common in emergency rooms, or when health providers send their samples to outside laboratories. But they can happen at public testing sites, too: One Connecticut doctor regularly tested patients for dozens of illnesses at a town drive-through. The patients thought they were simply getting coronavirus tests.
To avoid those extra charges, ask your provider what diseases they will screen for. It can be as simple as saying: “I understand I’m having a coronavirus test. Are there any other services you’ll bill me for?” Having a better understanding of that up front can save you a headache later, and you can make an informed decision about what care is actually needed. If your providers can’t tell you what they’ll bill for, that may be a signal you want to seek care elsewhere.
Uninsured? Ask your doctor to bill the government, not you.
Uninsured patients have faced coronavirus bills upward of $1,000, according to billing documents reviewed by The New York Times.
That type of billing is legal: Health care providers are not required to provide free coronavirus tests to Americans who lack health insurance. But they do not necessarily have to bill patients directly. The federal government has set up a provider relief fund: Health providers can seek reimbursement for coronavirus testing and treatment provided to those without coverage. Once again, it pays to ask ahead of time how providers handle uninsured patients and whether they submit to the fund. Unfortunately, they are not required to do so — and could continue to pursue the debt.
You should also be aware that 17 states have authorized their state Medicaid plans to cover coronavirus test costs for uninsured Americans. This means your state government can pay the bill instead of you. You can find out if you live in one of these states here.
To challenge a surprise bill, know your rights under federal law
New federal laws regulate how health providers and insurers can bill patients for coronavirus tests. Understanding how they work can help you push back on charges that may not be allowed.