Study: Some Patients Will Face Big Out-Of-Pocket Costs For Testing Related To COVID-19

People who believe they have COVID-19, and who meet the criteria, wait in line to be pre-screened for the coronavirus outside of the Brooklyn Hospital Center on March 20, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (Ph... People who believe they have COVID-19, and who meet the criteria, wait in line to be pre-screened for the coronavirus outside of the Brooklyn Hospital Center on March 20, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP) (Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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March 20, 2020 5:32 p.m.
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Certain Americans may have to pay hundreds — or even thousands — of dollars out-of-pocket for testing related to COVID-19, even if their symptoms are mild to moderate, a new study finds.

The study, done by health care software company Castlight Health, looked at medical claims filings from across the county to compare the out-of-pocket costs for certain services across metropolitan areas. The study also compared how costs varied depending on what kind of facility a patient visited to seek treatment.

It found that even Americans exhibiting moderate coronavirus symptoms could be hit with four-digit medical bills, and not just at emergency rooms.

To explain some of these costs, the study pointed to the need for providers to test patients for other illnesses with respiratory symptoms, like influenza, to rule them out, in addition to testing for COVID-19.

While the Trump administration has instructed that costs be waived for COVID-19 test, it is “unclear,” according to the study, that the costs of these other tests would be fully covered by insurance.

“These costs can add up very quickly, particularly for people with no insurance or who have high-deductible health plans,” the study said, pointing to services like lab tests and chest x-rays.

To conduct the study, Castlight drew upon at a subset of 2.5 billion medical claims, as well as provider rate sheets, directory data and other publicly available information.

The study estimates that, in New York City, the out-of-pocket-costs for a patient who goes to the emergency room with mild to moderate symptoms range from $506 to $4,985, for an average of $2,321. Those costs grow if the patient is exhibiting severe symptoms, where the out-of-pocket costs for that testing in New York ERs range from $791 to $7,341, for an average of $3,305.

Seattle emergency room patients exhibiting moderate symptoms could pay an average of $1,793 out-of-pocket for testing, while in Miami those patients are estimated to pay an average of $3,997 out-of-pocket.

The estimated costs decrease if patients instead received testing at an urgent care facility, from their primary care doctor, or used a telehealth option — a potentially free option if your symptoms are mild and additional testing isn’t necessary.

Urgent care providers could charge an average of $352 out-of-pocket for New York City patients with mild or moderate symptoms, according to the study, while those with severe symptoms could be on the hook for an average of $1,336 for urgent care testing.

The study estimates that average out-of-pocket costs for testing from primary care physicians in New York would be $1,220 for severe symptoms, and $235 for mild to moderate ones.

It looked at the variation of costs in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas,; Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C..

Read the study, which broke down average costs in all those cities, below:

Correction: This story has been corrected to clarify that the study looked only at costs related to testing, and not overall treatment.

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COVID-19 Tracking Project (updated data on testing and infections in the U.S.).
Johns Hopkins Global COVID-19 Survey (most up to date numbers globally and for countries around the world).
Worldometers.info (extensive source of information and data visualizations on COVID-19 Crisis — discussion of data here).
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