Free coronavirus testing will be offered in a growing number of states, but it’s still not clear whether the federal government will guarantee free testing for anyone who wants it nationwide.
Officials in California, New York, Vermont and Maryland have ordered insurance companies not to charge residents who get tested for the novel coronavirus COVID-19, which has killed over 3,500 people and infected more than 105,000 worldwide as of Saturday evening, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Health insurers including Blue Cross Blue Shield ANTM, -1.73%, Aetna CVS, -0.32%, CI, -2.69% Anthem Health and Emblem Health have also said they’ll waive out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus tests. That move could mean higher costs for consumers down the road, because some insurers may have to raise premiums in 2021 to cover unanticipated costs related to the coronavirus.
President Donald Trump signed a $8.3 billion spending package on Friday to address the coronavirus outbreak. The funding will cover costs associated with testing, but it wasn’t immediately clear whether that meant a free test for any individual who wants one. The CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did not respond immediately to requests for comment.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has been covering the cost of coronavirus tests for individuals conducted at public-health labs. But as the CDC has attempted to ramp up testing, it’s been expanded to hospitals and other health-care sites that would typically bill insurers.
That’s raised concerns about whether Americans with weak or nonexistent health-insurance coverage could find themselves facing steep bills for coronavirus tests. Public-health experts have warned that people may avoid getting tested if they can’t afford it — and that could hinder efforts to contain the coronavirus in the U.S.
Already, news stories have circulated about people hit with hefty surprise medical bills after they were tested for the sometimes-deadly virus.
“If people with COVID-19 symptoms don’t get properly tested, we could have a catastrophe on our hands,” wrote Gavin Yamey, a physician and Duke University professor, in Time magazine. “Infected people could get sick and die. They could infect others. There would be avoidable suffering and a U.S. epidemic that would spiral out of control.”