Cost Concerns: Why COVID-19 Test Prices Vary Widely
CHICAGO (CBS) -- COVID-19 testing is the key to stopping the spread of the coronavirus, but test pricing can vary greatly. Hospitals and labs can set their own prices, and that's just one of the reasons why the bills can range anywhere from $20 to hundreds of dollars.
"Actually I got tested because I wasn't feeling well," said Julie Pautsch.
Pautsch tested at an in-network clinic in the West Loop in September. Luckily she was negative, but she was surprised three months later when she received a bill in the mail for a $50 copay.
"No, no. So they shouldn't be charged for any of that if they're in network, no copays, no deductibles," said Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at Kaiser Family Foundation.
Pollitz explained that the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act required health covered for COVID-19 testing with no cost sharing for people covered by most private health plans, Medicare or Medicaid, but billing errors have been popping up all the time.
"It's not illegal for them to charge whatever they want for a test. They really can," Pollitz said. "So we have seen instances of this."
The Kaiser Family Foundation researched pricing in every state and found that test prices ranged between $20 and $850 per diagnostic test. About half of test charges (51%) were priced between $100 and $199 and nearly one in five (19%) were priced above $200.
CBS 2 found several testing prices above the $200 mark in the Chicago area.
"But we have really seen some outliers, you know, many hundreds of dollars, even thousands of dollars for a COVID test, so we know there is some price gouging going on," Pollitz said.
CBS 2 reached out to the clinic Pautsch visited to clarify why she was charged a copay for an in-network COVID test but is still waiting to hear back.
Meanwhile, Pautsch worries that the pricing confusion will deter people from getting tested.
"Fifty dollars can add up," she said. "But if you don't have insurance $200, $400? You might just skip it. You don't want anybody to second guess getting tested."
Hospitals and labs can set their own rates for the privately insured and uninsured, but the cash price must be listed on their public websites. Researchers could only find prices posted on about three quarters of hospital websites included in this study.
If you have insurance you'll want to make sure it's in your network and if you don't, you'll want to make sure you go a to a place that posts the price online as required. The Department of Health and Human Services website also has a tool for finding no cost testing in your community.
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