Despite repeated assurances that testing for coronavirus disease is available to everyone free of charge, people will still find accounts at some test sites in South Carolina.
That’s because no law requires testers to bill insurance or government aid programs.
A newspaper survey found prices ranging from $ 0 to $ 300. Result: Some Southern Carolinians are paying for COVID-19 tests when there are many free options.
Most nasal smears are performed by the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control and the Medical University of South Carolina.
But some smaller labs and clinics are offering rapid tests for those willing to pay a premium, capitalizing on people’s need for quick responses to what ails them during a pandemic.
Karen Pollitz, senior researcher at the national health policy nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, said the CARES Act passed by Congress in March required all health insurers to cover the full cost of a COVID-19 test. This means no direct cost. The CARES Act has also enabled a program that reimburses testers for patients who are not insured.
But the CARES Act did not require clinics and laboratories to collect exams to charge insurance companies or request compensation from the federal government. Therefore, if the provider does not want to accept insurance, the patient pays.
And according to the law, test providers can charge whatever price they want, said Pollitz.
This phenomenon is not new in the health world. For example, the gross cost to remove your appendix in Charleston varies between $ 13,000 and $ 43,000, depending on which hospital you are in, according to the SC Hospital Association. Most patients will never see such a high bill because of their insurance coverage.
Dr. Danielle Scheurer, director of quality at MUSC Health, said during a board meeting on October 9 that the organization makes every effort to ensure that there are no costs associated with COVID-19 testing for patients. The MUSC has conducted more than 200,000 tests since the pandemic began.
“The patient shouldn’t have to pay out of pocket,” said Scheurer.
Uninsured patients can receive an account, but a spokeswoman said they will not be responsible for it. At all MUSC test sites, no one is charged at the time of the swab.
DHEC refused to take a position on the practice of not accepting insurance for COVID-19 tests.
An agency spokesperson pointed out patients to their website, which maintains an updated list of test providers and indicates where tests are available for free. Each week, DHEC offers its own free trial. Times and locations vary.
The cost of running these tests varies depending on the type and volume of people tested, but the state government runs an average of $ 125 each.
The test price also depends on your type. There are generally two types of diagnostic tests. MUSC, DHEC and many others widely use the molecular option, also known as PCR testing. The waiting time for PCR testing caused frustration at intervals during the pandemic, as demand for supplies exceeded availability. Response time is known to extend to two weeks.
Antigen tests, or rapid tests, return results on the same day, but are less accurate, according to DHEC. Rapid testing has its advantages, however. Rapid responses can be beneficial to both the patient and virus containment efforts. They are also comparatively cheap.
Holy City Med, a hybrid emergency and primary care clinic on the Savannah Highway in West Ashley, is charging $ 80 for one of these rapid tests and $ 100 for a PCR test. The clinic’s policy is not to accept insurance. Proponents of the model say that patients generally benefit from lower prices through brokerage directly with the provider, rather than with an insurer.
Frank Wells, owner of the clinic, said he founded Holy City Med to save patients money on healthcare. People appreciate the convenience and security of a drive-thru test site with quick response and a guarantee that there are no hidden accounts, Wells said.
“We run an efficient, free-market system,” said Wells.
He also said that the tests Holy City Med chose to use are highly accurate.
At Rapid Results COVID Testing, a test costs $ 199, the highest price Post and Courier has identified in the Charleston area.
Curtis Bostic, a former Charleston county councilor, businessman and lawyer, started the Quick Results COVID Test operation due to long response times. Waiting a week or more for employees at Bostic companies said he was interested in knowing that their test was “economically devastating,” he said.
Bostic said the deal mainly depends on molecular PCR testing.
The price tag that Rapid Results is charging is higher mainly because of a special agreement between the company and a local laboratory. Bostic said a courier takes the samples to the laboratory for immediate processing, instead of sending them to a major diagnostics company.
“We are not for everyone,” he said. “We are for people who want to get the test result right away.”
For similar reasons, uMedMarket, a company in the interior of the state, is charging up to $ 300 for a rapid PCR test. The tests are for sale on the website and, once purchased, patients go to a collection point.
Although it charges $ 300 for a guaranteed 24-hour response time, the company only charges $ 30 for standard tests.
Even so, free options abound, regardless of insurance coverage.
Joshua Baker, director of South Carolina’s Medicaid agency, said in a statement that the department has enrolled uninsured adults in a temporary benefit that it will pay for COVID-19 tests since July. The testing provider must be enrolled in the state Medicaid program.
Approximately 150,000 South Carolinaians are covered by this limited benefit.