HEALTH

Officials And Insurers Are Pushing To Make Coronavirus Testing Free

But the demand for tests and the cost of care for infected patients are still two major hurdles to containing the virus.

State government officials and insurance companies are now pushing to make sure people who need to be tested for the coronavirus aren’t put off by the cost as the illness continues to spread around the country.

This week, California and Washington both ordered insurance companies operating in each state to waive deductibles and copayments for the test if a doctor deems it necessary. So far, 19 states have reported a total of 164 cases and 11 deaths due to COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

These orders will affect roughly 24 million people in California and another 1.2 million in Washington, according to officials. Similar measures are in the works in other states, as well.

“We’re all in this together, and I’m grateful to those health providers who have already stepped up and heeded our call,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said in a statement.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said his state would help cover testing for uninsured residents, too, although he did not immediately offer details on how that would work.

Also on board with free testing is America’s Health Insurance Plans, a major insurance trade group, which announced Thursday that its members’ plans will cover the cost of testing. Cigna ― one of the nation’s largest health insurance providers ― said separately that it would do the same.

But supply and demand could be a big problem.

Efforts to make testing widely available across the country were bungled from the start, leading experts to speculate that significantly more people actually have COVID-19 than official reports indicate ― it’s just that they haven’t been tested. (For most people, symptoms are mild, and some people may not present any symptoms at all.) An issue with one element of the CDC-designed coronavirus test meant that, for weeks, hospitals have had trouble administering tests even to people who traveled to areas with large outbreaks.

Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the White House effort to control the virus, sought to alleviate such concerns this week by claiming that the agency would soon be sending out 2,500 kits capable of testing around 1.5 million people.

“We need this as soon as we can have it,” Lisa Maragakis, senior director of infection prevention at Johns Hopkins Medicine, said Friday of the nation’s testing capabilities.

Free testing addresses some Americans’ anxieties about getting treated for the coronavirus, but so far officials and insurers have made no assurances about the cost of health care beyond finding out whether a patient is infected.

While COVID-19 is generally a mild illness, it has required dayslong hospital stays for some patients.

Around 30 million people in the U.S. ― or about 10% ― have no health insurance, but even those who do can face obstacles in the form of steep deductibles and copayments. And because deductibles reset at the beginning of the year, many people aren’t close to clearing that hurdle yet, meaning that people may still be put off from receiving the care they need due to the cost. There’s also the problem of sick leave: Millions of Americans don’t have the luxury of working from home or taking days or weeks off with pay.

Legislation proposed by Democrats in the House and Senate would provide some relief. If passed ― which would likely prove difficult in the Republican-controlled Senate ― the bill would require employers to grant workers 14 paid sick days in the event of a public health emergency.

Separately, the federal government could take a variety of steps to help people deal with a potential outbreak by making it easier to sign up for Medicare and granting extra funds to existing government programs.

Congress approved a $8.3 billion aid package for research and preparedness this week.

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