A meme with the false claim that “[t]he US is charging over $3,000 per test” for patients who may have COVID-19 has been circulating on social media. For now, the two agencies authorized to test for the illness are not billing patients.
A baseless claim that it will cost patients in the U.S. more than $3,000 to test for COVID-19 has been circulating online.
As of now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized the use of two tests, one from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and one from the New York State Department of Public Health. Neither agency is currently charging patients for the test.
Although the writer of the tweet didn’t respond to our request for comment, it appears that the claim is based on a news story that detailed the experience of one man in Miami. The story, which first appeared in the Miami Herald, has spread widely as other news outlets have picked it up and, in some cases, used it to illustrate problems with the U.S. health care system.
According to the Herald, Osmel Martinez Azcue had been to China for work and returned to Miami in January with “flu-like symptoms.” He went to Jackson Memorial Hospital since he worried that he may have contracted the new coronavirus disease, now called COVID-19. The initial cost for his visit was $3,270, billed to his insurance company.
That total included an emergency room visit and testing for 22 upper respiratory pathogens, according to Lidia Amoretti, a spokeswoman for the hospital who answered questions from FactCheck.org by email. Azcue tested positive for the flu and, after hospital workers consulted with the Florida Department of Health, he was not tested for COVID-19.
So, this widely referenced case did not actually include testing for COVID-19.
As of now, the two authorized testing agencies aren’t billing patients for the tests. Jill Montag, a spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Health, told us by email that the state is paying for testing and a fact sheet from America’s Health Insurance Plans, a health insurance trade association, reported that the CDC isn’t currently charging patients. That could change, though. The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has created a billing code for COVID-19 testing, and other labs could get emergency authorization from the FDA for testing.
Jennifer Kates, the director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said in a phone interview, “there could be other costs incurred.” Visits to the doctor’s office and the emergency room can cost patients money, she said, noting that some high-deductible insurance plans could effectively charge patients who go to the ER $1,000 or more.
“This all comes down to coverage,” she said.
U.S. Food & Drug Administration. 2019 Novel Coronavirus Emergency Use Authorization. Accessed 2 Mar 2020.
Keeping Americans Safe from Coronavirus (COVID 19). America’s Health Insurance Plans. 26 Feb 2020.
Amoretti, Lidia. Spokeswoman, Jackson Memorial Hospital. Email exchange with FactChek.org. 2 Mar 2020.
Montag, Jill. Spokeswoman, New York State Department of Health. Email exchange with FactCheck.org. 2 Mar 2020.
Kates, Jennifer. Director, global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. Phone interview with FactCheck.org. 3 Mar 2020.