From now-debunked Tweets about $3,000 coronavirus tests, to reports that patients are being denied them, there’s a lot of confusion around how much the coronavirus test costs and who can get it. And maybe that’s because there’s no straightforward or universal answer — it all depends on your health care coverage, location, and symptoms. What’s more, the situation is constantly changing.
On March 4, Vice President Mike Pence announced that more than 2,500 coronavirus test kits are being distributed around the country to hospitals that have requested them, especially in areas where outbreaks have occurred. The kits will provide over a million tests in total, spread across every state. The goal, according to Pence, is to eventually make tests available to all patients who need them by stocking up local clinics and even pharmacies.
Shortly after Pence’s speech, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that anyone with a doctor’s order can now get tested for coronavirus if they meet the criteria. While it might be easier in the short-term to get your hands on a test if you need one, the recent surge in kits isn’t expected to meet demand down the road. In the meantime, here’s what you should know about coronavirus testing in the U.S. right now:
What Is The Test Like?
If you have a dry cough and are only noticing symptoms in your upper respiratory system, you’ll just need to have your nose and throat swabbed. But if you have wet cough, you might be asked to cough up mucus to test your lower respiratory system, and give blood, too. If you have no symptoms, haven’t traveled to affected areas recently, and do not report that you’ve been in proximity to someone who tested positive for the virus, your doctor could choose not to order the test. Instead, and/or in addition, they might suggest that you self-quarantine for 14 days.
Who Pays For It?
Currently, according to FactCheck.org, the CDC is footing the bill for any coronavirus testing it does in public health labs. And for patients still left with a copay, CNN reports that some insurance companies like Aetna will waive those fees as well. As commercial labs begin developing their own tests outside of the CDC, though, things could start to get expensive. If you decide to get tested in a hospital or commercial lab (and not through the CDC), the cost all depends on your health insurance plan. To find out for sure, it’s always a good idea to call your health insurance company.
How About Hidden Costs?
While the CDC is sponsoring coronavirus testing, the actual cost of treating the virus can vary depending on your coverage. If you go to the emergency room and either have a high deductible, or no coverage, you could be stuck with a big bill for the visit. Additionally, the CDC doesn’t cover the cost of your hospital room or other treatments and tests.
But hidden costs don’t only apply to the emergency room — quarantining yourself can come with its own costs, too, especially if you don’t have the option of working from home. For example, The New York Times reports that "only 60% of workers in service occupations can take paid time off when they are ill." For many Americans, losing out on two weeks of pay could put their livelihood at risk. Still, in the case of a serious health condition, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) does ensure employment status up to 12 weeks in a year for employees who meet the criteria. The problem is, not all employees are covered by this act and it doesn’t include paid leave.
What If You Can’t Get Tested?
According to pharmacist Dr. Ramzi Yacoub, PharmD, if you think you have the virus but don’t have a dangerous fever or severe symptoms, you should stay home and call your doctor before rushing to the emergency room. "The CDC is advising people to self-quarantine, a decision that should be made in consultation with a health care provider that involves staying at home for at least 14 days and keeping distance from loved ones," he says. However, if your condition worsens, make sure to get in touch with a doctor immediately.
Dr. Ramzi Yacoub, PharmD, Chief Pharmacy Officer of SingleCare
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here.
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