How to avoid a big bill for your COVID test: With Sarah Kliff of the New York Times

SEASON 4-ever – Episode 9

They’re supposed to be free. And usually they are. But sometimes… things happen. Here’s how to keep them from happening to YOU.

New York Times reporter Sarah Kliff has been asking readers to send in their COVID-testing bills. She’s now seen hundreds of them, and she runs down for us the most common ways things can go sideways, and how to avoid them.

First off, she says: “I don’t want people to think, ‘Holy crap,  I should just not get tested for coronavirus, because it’s going to cost me a ton of money.’ You absolutely should. And the odds are that you will not get a surprise bill, and it will cost zero dollars. Like 98 percent are not going to come with a surprise bill. But some do… When it’s 2 percent, and a million tests are being done a day, that’s still a lot of people getting bills they didn’t expect.”

Here’s a quick rundown of her top tips:

  • Emergency rooms and hospitals are often culprits. As Sarah has discussed with us before, a lot of ER’s charge “facility fees” that can be a thousand bucks or more, and that insurance may not cover. So, as always: Keep out of ’em if you can.
  • Scope things out in advance:  Before you head out for a test,ideally, before you even need one, see if you can suss out how places in your area bill for coronavirus testing. Make a list of the spots that seem likely to not hit you with weird extra charges.
  • If you’re uninsured: There are protections, but they’re not quite as good. The federal government has a fund to pay providers to test uninsured folks, so you can ask your provider to send the bill to Uncle Sam. (The catch: The provider isn’t legally obligated to do that. They could decide to bill you instead.  So again, scope things out in advance.)
    • ALSO:  Some states have set up a special Medicaid fund to cover coronavirus tests for uninsured folks. In these states, you don’t even have to sign up for (or be eligible for) regular Medicaid.  Right now there are 17 states like this. The list is here (although it’s not SUPER user-friendly).
  • In general: It 100 percent sucks that we even have to pass around advice like this. AND of course “scope things out” is often easier said than done.
  • Here’s Sarah’s NYT story that inspired this episode.

Here’s a transcript for this episode.

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