New Rule Raises Question: Who’ll Pay for All the Covid Tests?
Spurred on by the increase in Covid cases and the spread of the Delta variant, a wave of large employers this week announced the same rule for unvaccinated workers: they will have to undergo regular surveillance tests. The new requirement raises a thorny question: who pays for these coronavirus tests?
Doctors typically charge around $ 50 to $ 100 for testing, so the costs for weekly testing can add up quickly. Federal law requires insurers to fully cover tests when ordered by a health care provider, but routine workplace testing is exempt from this provision.
“It’s really up to the employer,” said Sabrina Corlette, research professor at the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University. “They can force employees to foot the bill. “
So far, employers have taken a range of approaches, from full cost coverage to paying unvaccinated workers for full freight.
The US government will pay for the coronavirus tests of its unvaccinated workers, Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House deputy press secretary, said at a press conference on Friday.
President Biden on Thursday announced rules that amount to a two-tier system for the country’s four million federal employees. Those who do not get vaccinated will have to distance themselves socially, wear face covers and respect official travel limits. Those who get vaccinated will not have such requirements.
Those who are not vaccinated will also need to undergo regular coronavirus tests. Each federal agency will come up with a plan to test their unvaccinated workforce. The costs and procedures for each agency’s testing protocols will depend on the number of unvaccinated people they need to monitor.
“The agencies are going to implement this program themselves, so they will be responsible for how it goes,” said Ms. Jean-Pierre.
Among employers taking a different approach is Rhodes College in Tennessee: unvaccinated students, faculty and staff will pay a fee of $ 1,500 per semester to cover costs associated with a weekly coronavirus testing program.
Rhodes, a small liberal arts school, estimates that three-quarters of its employees are vaccinated. It still collects information on the vaccination rate of its 2,000 students and strongly encourages vaccination. But he is waiting for the vaccines to be fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration before mandating them.
“It’s not a punishment,” said Meghan Harte Weyant, college vice president for student life. “For students who choose to return to campus without being vaccinated, they will have to cover their costs. This is to ensure that students who are vaccinated do not have to bear this cost. “
Other employers are asking workers to share in the costs of coronavirus testing. MGM Resorts, which owns numerous hotels and casinos in Las Vegas, will charge a co-payment of $ 15 for testing at an on-site clinic for unvaccinated workers, multiple news outlets reported last week. Workers will also have the option of being tested at an external supplier.
MGM Resorts did not respond to a New York Times request for comment on the new policy.
These disparate approaches could provide a menu of options for workplaces that still decide who will pay for coronavirus testing of unvaccinated workers, and how much.
New York and California began testing requirements for unvaccinated state workers this week, but neither have specified who will pay for the service. None of the governor’s press offices responded to a request for comment from The Times.
Many states and cities still have free coronavirus testing sites they started earlier in the pandemic. Long Beach, Calif., Announced this week that it will require testing for unvaccinated municipal workers. In a statement to The Times on the new rule, the city said workers “will have the option to take their mandatory tests for free at the Long Beach Health Department” when the requirement goes into effect in mid-August.
But many Americans also get tested at doctor’s offices and drugstores, which typically bill patients and their insurance for the service.
Understanding the State of Vaccination Mandates in the United States
Federal law requires insurers to fully cover coronavirus tests ordered by health care providers, which means the doctor cannot apply a deductible or co-payment to the service. Rules written by the Trump administration and maintained in the Biden administration excluded routine workplace testing from this requirement.
In practice, insurers often end up covering employer-imposed tests – it’s hard to tell from a doctor’s bill whether a workplace has ordered the treatment – but they might start looking at cases of patients who suddenly have weekly claims for the same service.
“If they start to see a significant number of people undergo these tests every week, or twice a week, under federal law, they would be able to say that it looks like routine tests on the spot. working and not covering it up, ”said Georgetown’s Professor Corlette.
This means that unvaccinated workers who must get their own coronavirus test could have to pay their own costs. Some patients have faced surprise medical bills for coronavirus tests, which can range from a few dollars to over $ 1,000.
Some of these bills were the result of a test imposed by the employer. Over the past year, The Times has asked readers to send in their medical bills for coronavirus testing and treatment, and has looked at several cases of surprise charges for a required workplace test.
That includes Marta Bartan, who needed a coronavirus test to return to a job last summer as a colorist in Brooklyn. As reported by The Times, she received a bill for $ 1,394 from a hospital operating a drive-thru site.
“I was so confused,” she said at the time. “You come in to get a Covid test hoping it’s free. What could they have charged me $ 1,400 for? “
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