coronavirus testing

Coronavirus Test Comes With Hefty Price Tag for Uninsured San Diego Woman

Local hospital's original bill approaches $1,500 raising ire of health care advocates

NBCUniversal, Inc.

A Carmel Valley woman is putting out a word of warning to uninsured people in need of a COVID-19 test after she was billed nearly $1,500 by a local hospital.

“It is not free. If you do not have insurance you will likely get a bill,” Melissa Chalmers told NBC 7.

Chalmers, 44, did not have medical insurance when she was tested at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla in March.

She was not unlike many people who assumed COVID-19 testing was free of charge, in light of the federal ‘Families First Coronavirus Response Act.’ But the provision only relieves co-payment obligations for those who have medical insurance.

Chalmers, who owns a small consulting business, says she had Coronavirus symptoms on March 16. She wanted to get tested to not only protect herself but those around her.

“When my chest started to feel really tight, is when I felt maybe it is COVID and I should go in and get tested," Chalmers said.

She said she drove to Scripps La Jolla and was told she needed to be tested immediately. After receiving the test, she was sent home to self-quarantine.

Seven days later, test results came back negative. But then, she received a bill for $1,496. The hospital reduced the payment to $897.60.

Patient with face protection holds hospital bill

“When I got the bill and seeing that it was, even at a discount rate, almost $900, I was completely in shock, said Chalmers.

The bill breakdown shows a $320 charge for lab services, $1,176 for emergency services for a total of $1,496. The bill deducts $598.40 for ‘patient adjustments’ for a total bill of $897.60.

After talking with the Scripps finance department, Chalmers said the bill was reduced to around $700. She has agreed to a monthly payment plan that will extend over 12 months.

Scripps Health said it could not comment directly on her case for privacy reasons, but released this statement:

“The Families First Coronavirus Response Act passed by Congress on March 18 eliminated co-payments for most people with health insurance coverage for testing for the novel coronavirus. For any patient without insurance, Scripps offers a wide range of payment plans, bill reduction options, financial assistance and other programs to help them pay their outstanding medical bill.”

Meanwhile, health care advocates say Melissa Chalmers’s case underscores a serious problem for those without medical insurance.

“It’s disturbing and it’s dangerous for uninsured Americans to be getting gigantic bills if the go in and do the responsible thing, which is to go get tested for the Coronavirus if they fear that they’re ill,” said Carmen Balder, Executive Director of the non-profit group Consumer Watchdog.

Balder is strongly urging uninsured Californians to sign up for Medi-Cal.

“Especially if this coronavirus epidemic has put you in a more dire financial situation, you could qualify for Medi-Cal coverage, certainly enough to get the coverage and testing that you need."

Meanwhile, Melissa Chalmers wants to put out a simple message for those without insurance.

“If your symptoms are not life-threatening, unfortunately, at this time I would honestly advise to just stay at home and self-isolate and quarantine and try to get over it ad get better, rather than go get tested,” Chalmers said.

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