Unexpected medical bills are always a concern. Although we are through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus remains a reality, and so does COVID-19 testing.
Even with effective vaccines for preventing severe disease, frequent testing is still required to avoid the spread of the virus.
That is why knowing how and where to get tested for the virus is essential.
If you do not have health insurance, you may be concerned about the costs of COVID-19 testing. In some cases, testing can leave you with a substantial bill. However, there are free options for getting a test if uninsured.
This article covers the costs related to COVID-19 testing and how to get a free test.
Coverage For COVID-19 Tests
In March 2020, two federal acts were passed to help families and individuals mitigate some of the costs of COVID-19 testing and treatment.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act are set to last for the duration of the public health emergency. The Acts ensure that all health insurance, whether public or private, must cover the costs of FDA-approved COVID-19 tests.
However, even if you have health insurance, there are instances where insurers are not required to cover COVID-19 testing without cost-sharing:
- If testing is conducted as part of employee return-to-work programs or other screening purposes
- If testing is part of public health surveillance.
- Coverage under the FFCRA and CARES Acts does not apply to short-term health coverage or plans that do not comply with the ACA.
It is essential to know that even if you have health coverage, the limitations above may mean you are still liable for COVID-19 diagnostic testing and related services.
While federal law also made resources available to finance free testing for uninsured individuals, there are still significant barriers to testing and treating COVID-19 for people without health coverage.
How Much Does A COVID-19 Test Cost?
Hospitals and laboratories can set their own rates for COVID-19-related tests outside the Medicare program. Because there is no federal regulation of prices for privately insured and uninsured individuals, pricing varies widely between providers.
An investigation by the Kaiser Family Foundation determined that the cost of a test can range anywhere from $36 to $180 per test for uninsured individuals. The cost of tests for insured individuals ranges between $80 to $250.
Plus, any testing usually involves the additional charges of a physician or hospital visit and specimen collection fees, meaning your bill can add up to hundreds of dollars.
While the cost of the actual COVID-19 diagnostic test may seem reasonable at most hospitals, additional procedures and facility use charges can run into thousands of dollars.
The cost of testing varies significantly between states, with New Jersey topping the fees at $302 and Maryland at the lowest end of the scale, charging $62 per diagnostic test.
The Cost Of COVID-19 Tests (Rapid And PCR) At Urgent Care Clinics
There are currently two main COVID-19 diagnostic tests:
The PCR test is the more accurate of the two tests. A swab is taken of your nasal passages and sent to a local laboratory. The time it takes to get results depends on the lab volume.
The Antigen test is designed to diagnose an active COVID-19 infection rapidly. Antigen tests are most accurate when taken within five to seven days of acquiring symptoms. The rapid test is less accurate than the PCR test and can give false negative results.
The antigen test is performed similarly to a PCR test with a nasopharyngeal swab. Tests are run on-site at in-clinic labs, and results are available the same day.
Urgent care facilities across the United States have significant differences in costs for these tests. However, there was little difference in cost, if any, between PCR COVID-19 tests and the rapid antigen test.
The out-of-pocket cost of diagnostic testing at urgent care clinics typically ranges between $100 -$200, with an average price of $189 for a rapid and $137 for a PCR test.
Out-of-pocket Costs For COVID-19 Tests
While the FFCRA made provisions for uninsured individuals to receive free testing, this is only sometimes the case. There are several ways to get a COVID-19 test, and where you get your test will influence the cost.
Before you go for a test, knowing what out-of-pocket costs apply to the different testing facilities is essential.
Hospital prices for COVID-19 diagnostic tests may appear reasonable. Most tests at a hospital cost between $100 – $199, with a median of $127. But beware. Additional fees for being tested and treated in a hospital can add up to thousands of dollars.
While some urgent care clinics waive co-pays, the cost of a COVID-19 diagnostic test at a care clinic is generally between $100-$200. However, there may be additional fees if you see a provider or require other lab work. In that case, you may be out of pocket for $600 or more.
COMMUNITY HEALTH CENTER
Many states have implemented free testing at community health centers regardless of insurance. By conducting an Internet search for community health centers in your area, you can find one nearby.
There are currently 19 FDA-approved over-the-counter COVID tests that you can self-administer at home. These rapid antigen tests use a nasal swab and can detect active infection in around 15 minutes. The cost of a home test ranges between $109 – $155. There are several more affordable FDA-authorized tests available at multiple retailers.
Factors That Influence The Cost Of COVID-19 Tests
Here are some factors that influence the cost of COVID-19 testing:
There is no federal regulation on the price of COVID tests. As such, the cost of COVID-19 diagnostic tests can vary greatly between testing sites.
Costs vary widely across testing sites based on where the test is processed, the type of laboratory, the operating costs of the provider, and the quality of care.
The costs of testing are unpredictable. So, it’s a good idea to find out what costs are involved before you choose where to get tested.
Testing sites include:
- Health Centers
- Urgent care testing
- Laboratory testing
- Private testing locations like doctors’ practices
- At-home testing kit with almost immediate results
- At-home testing kit that requires a lab to read the results
The cost of COVID-19 tests can vary considerably across the country. If a testing center close to you is expensive, check other testing sites in your region.
Additional Clinic Fees
Federal law has made resources available for uninsured individuals to get free COVID testing at specific community care centers and safety net providers. However, the cover is limited to testing services only.
This means you could still end up with a hefty bill for facility charges, additional procedures, and administration fees, including:
- External lab fees
- The cost of consulting a health provider
- Facility fee charged by the clinic
- Further diagnostic tests and bloodwork
- Treatment including medication
Some community health centers may offer care for the uninsured. Still, resources are limited, and access to a provider may not be possible geographically.
Additional fees add up quickly, so it’s important to understand what contributes to high costs and how to avoid them.
Free COVID-19 Testing Information
Many states offer free COVID testing at community centers. There are 15,000 free community-based testing sites across the U.S. You can find a community-based testing site in your region by checking the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website.
You can also get free at-home covid tests through a federal government program. Every U.S. household is eligible to order 4 free FDA-authorized at-home rapid COVID-19 tests. You can order test kits on the COVID.gov website.
Every residential address in the United States, including those in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, U.S. Territories, and foreign military and diplomatic missions, is eligible for test kits.
Your name and residential address are all that you need to place an order. No identification, credit card, or health insurance details are needed.
To ensure that all community members have access to tests, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services distributes free at-home tests to care homes, community clinics, food banks, and other community centers.
The costs of medical care for those who contract COVID-19 can be prohibitive. Uninsured individuals may face significant medical bills that they cannot pay.
While some uninsured individuals may get care at community centers, COVID-19 is a severe illness that often requires hospitalization. In the U.S., there is no comprehensive hospital charity care policy, meaning uninsured individuals will be billed for the total cost of care.
Do not let fear of unaffordable medical bills prevent you from seeking the health care you need. There are affordable health insurance plans to cover you when you need a COVID-19 test.
For example, Obamacare offers low-income people a solution for cost-effective health insurance. It protects you from expensive medical bills when emergencies arise.
If you’re looking for insurance and you have low to no income, we can help. Contact Enhance Healthfor personalized health insurance service. Our agents are happy to help you determine which plan best fits your needs and get you the cover you need.