While efforts are being made to ensure that Americans aren't charged for getting tested for the COVID-19 virus and subsequent treatment, it's emerging that it won't entirely be cost-free for some insured Minnesotans.
BMTN has found that some of the state's biggest insurers, while waiving the cost of lab testing to determine a coronavirus infection, will still levy copays and cost-sharing on its members for office or urgent care visits relating to the tests.
It comes despite Vice President Mike Pence announcing an agreement on Tuesday with health insurers that copays for COVID-19 testing and treatment would be waived, and coverage would extend to include the virus on all plans as well as to cover telemedicine, in addition to Medicare and Medicaid covering all testing and treatment.
Insurers have also agreed to "no surprise billing," though details are still to emerge about that.
In Minnesota, five of the state's largest insurers have said they will be waiving the cost of all diagnostic testing relating to COVID-19 for its members.
However only three major insurers – HealthPartners, PreferredOne and UCare – have said they are waiving office visit costs as well as the cost of testing for COVID-19, while two have said they will still charge for office visits, and one has not confirmed either way.
BlueCross BlueShield: Is waiving the cost of the COVID-19 test, but will still charge copays/cost-sharing for office visits related to the test.
HealthPartners: Is waiving the cost of both the COVID-19 lab test – regardless of where it's performed – and the cost of the office or urgent care visit associated with the test.
Medica: Co-pays, co-insurances and deductibles waived for COVID-19 testing for fully-insured group, individual and Medicare members, but will still apply copay/cost-sharing for the office visit.
UnitedHealth Group: Waiving all member cost sharing for COVID-19 diagnostic testing "provided at approved locations in accordance with CDC guidelines" for all commercial insured, Medicaid and Medicare members, and is "supporting self-insured customers choosing to implement similar actions." Has not said if it will waive the cost of office visits.
UCare Minnesota: UCare told us it is waiving copays, coinsurance or deductibles for doctor-ordered COVID-19 tests meeting CDC guidelines. It eventually told BMTN that it will also cover copays, coinsurance or deductibles for "for medically necessary clinic and urgent care services received at the visit when a COVID-19 test is administered at an in-network clinic, and at out-of-network clinics if in-network alternatives are not available."
PreferredOne: Is waiving the cost of COVID-19-related lab testing, as well as the member cost shared for the office, urgent care, or telehealth visit, and is providing the same option to its self-funded employer groups.
M Health Fairview launches drive-up testing
Amid growing concern over the lack of testing for COVID-19 being seen across the U.S., with the federal government struggling to produce enough testing kits after initially sending out kits that later turned out to be flawed, one Twin Cities health organization is trying to make diagnosis easier.
M Health Fairview has launched drive-up COVID-19 testing at four of its clinic locations, which it says will minimize the exposure for both patients and healthcare workers.
The system has been used to great effect in South Korea, which has been able to cut down on new COVID-19 cases by conducting huge numbers of tests to identify and isolate sick patients.
In order to get tested, patients need to call ahead to M Health Fairview and be screened by their health care provider or use OnCare, Fairview's 24/7 online care portal, to see if testing is needed.
The process of the test itself can be done at curbside, with nose and mouth swabs taken from patients, with the test taking less than 10 minutes.