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Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke March 4, 2020

Coronavirus testing is free, but there could be other costs

If Your Time is short

  • The CDC isn’t charging for coronavirus testing but patients could be stuck with associated costs, such as a trip to the emergency room.
     
  • In Florida, a man who worried he was infected initially faced a $3,270 bill even though he never received a coronavirus test. 
     
  • The man was charged for other costs incurred when he went to the hospital because he was worried he was infected. The biggest was his co-pay for the emergency room visit, which cost him $819.
 

Fears about the novel coronavirus are starting to dovetail with concerns about costs. 

"The blood test for coronavirus costs $3,200," says a Feb. 27 Facebook post. "Trump’s White House already said I won’t be able to afford the vaccine. If I can’t afford the test and I can’t afford the treatment, am I just supposed to die. This is exactly why I support healthcare as a human right."

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

The post seems to stem from a story about a man who got a steep medical bill after visiting a hospital when he returned from China in January and became ill. One headline about the man’s ordeal, from Business Insider, says: "A US resident racked up a $3,200 hospital bill for suspected coronavirus treatment, and his insurance only covered part of it."

The Miami Herald first reported on the story on Feb. 24, 2020. One version of the headline said: "Novel coronavirus test for Miami man leads to $3,275 bill," but the article itself reveals a more complicated story. 

Osmel Martinez Azcue went to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami after developing flu-like symptoms when he got back from a work trip to China in January, according to the Herald. He was placed in a closed-off room, and nurses wearing protective suits sprayed disinfectant smoke under the door before entering. Hospital staff members said he’d need a CT scan to screen for the virus but Azcue said he asked for a flu test first, because he knew he would have to pay out of pocket, and he wanted to be discharged if he tested positive for the flu.

"Fortunately," the story says, "that’s exactly what happened. He had the flu, not the deadly virus that has infected tens of thousands of people, mostly in China." 

Two weeks later, according to the Herald, Azcue got a notice from an insurance company about a claim for $3,270. Jackson Health officials said at the time that more bills were on the way but the total cost was still unclear. 

The Herald story said the hospital told the newspaper that Azcue would be responsible for only $1,400 of the $3,270 bill; his insurance would cover the rest. But Azcue said he had learned from his insurer that he would be stuck with the whole bill unless he provided three years of medical records proving that his flu didn’t relate to a preexisting condition. 

"How can they expect normal citizens to contribute to eliminating the potential risk of person-to-person spread if hospitals are waiting to charge us $3,270 for a simple blood test and a nasal swab?" the story quotes him as saying. 

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Ultimately, according to Business Insider, Azcue’s total co-pay was $1,400. After the Miami Herald story ran, the insurer contacted Azcue and said the requirement to provide three years of records was an "administrative error." 

"We had concerns that your expectations of service were not being met based on some news articles that had come to our attention," Business Insider quotes an email from the insurer as saying.

The publication breaks down the Azcue’s medical bill, including the total charge — $3,270 — and what Azcue owed. Two blood tests cost him about $157, virus and flu testing cost about $299 and his co-pay for the emergency room visit cost him $819. 

Azcue wasn’t tested for COVID-19, however, because he tested positive for the flu. And as Business Insider reports, the CDC, which is the only facility that can test for COVID-19 or designate other laboratories to test for the disease, isn’t billing for testing. 

"This means a patient who goes to the ER or urgent care for coronavirus treatment wouldn’t incur a charge for COVID-19 lab testing," the story says. 

But as Business Insider reports in another story, free testing doesn’t mean free health care. Patients could rack up thousands of dollars in costs associated with the hospital visit or tests for other viruses. 

In fact, on March 2, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he was directing the state’s health insurers to waive costs "associated with testing for coronavirus, including emergency room, urgent care and office visits."

"We can’t let cost be a barrier to access to COVID-19 testing for any New Yorker," he tweeted. 

Our ruling

The Facebook post says the "blood test for coronavirus costs $3,200."

Testing for COVID-19 is free. But there could be costs associated with seeking such testing, like a visit to the hospital. In one case, in Florida, a man who worried he was infected initially faced a $3,270 bill even though he never received a coronavirus test. 

We rate this post Mostly False.

 

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Coronavirus testing is free, but there could be other costs

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