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Cost of Care: How much will it cost to get tested for the novel coronavirus?

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Posted at 8:48 PM, Mar 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-09 09:40:26-04

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DENVER — While the state lab says it will test for possible coronavirus for free, that doesn’t mean that anyone can be tested without spending a dime.

“There is no fee for testing at the state lab or any of the labs that are sent out to the CDC,” Scott Bookman, director of the state’s public health lab, said Tuesday.

That takes into account the actual determination if a sample is positive or negative for the novel coronavirus. But it’s far from the first step in the process.

Coronavirus in Colorado: COVID-19 cases, locations and live updates across the state

As in any illness, healthcare providers charge patients for walking into a doctor’s office, for meeting with a physician, and for any tests that are performed. That means that even though the sample is tested for free, a patient can end up with thousands of dollars in medical bills.

The good news is that insurance companies are starting to make changes.

“We at Cigna will waive all co-pays and cost shares for coronavirus testing that is recommended by your health care practitioner,” President and CEO of Cigna, David Cordani, said in a video statement.

But the insurer will still charge patients for the medical visit.

A spokesperson for National Jewish Hospital tells Denver7 that insurers are starting to provide codes to pay for the actual swab testing. Other costs, like a hospital visit, may not be covered. And that goes for insured patients who call ahead and go to their primary doctor. Emergency room visits are a different story.

“If you’re having mild symptoms, it’s probably not beneficial to come to the emergency department,” ER physician Dr. Neal O’Connor told Denver7.

That is to keep emergency rooms from being overloaded with people, as well as avoid much larger bills for patients. At this point, emergency room visits for coronavirus testing are not being covered by insurance companies.

“I do think a fair amount of judgment and reserve is warranted, especially if you’re having mild symptoms,” Dr. O’Connor added.

As for the uninsured, that group will likely face the full brunt of a bill for everything but sending that test to the state lab.

Other states, including New York and California, have recently ordered insurance carriers to cover medical costs associated with coronavirus testing including ER and urgent care visits. Governor Polis has not committed to such a plan.

“If those (tests) are going to be run by other providers, we would look at using our authority to make sure that there were no penalty or charge to patients,” he told reporters on Thursday.

Do you have more questions on COVID-19? Call 303-389-1687 or 1-877-462-2911 to reach the CDPHE.

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