Nobody asked to get the coronavirus, and we most certainly didn’t expect to be thrown into the middle of a pandemic so quickly without a solid game plan. An unfortunate side effect of what we’re experiencing is that while the government is trying to find a solution to relieve the financial aspect of testing and treatment for COVID-19, patients are still suffering the financial consequences.
Many are still receiving bills for medical services after visiting emergency rooms for coronavirus testing, despite a law being enacted in mid-March to comp those medical fees. Free COVID-19 related testing encourages those with presumptive symptoms to seek that testing. The problem is that there are a significant number of people who are being billed for testing contrary to the law.
It’s a complicated trickle-down problem
Without free testing, it’s unlikely that many of those with symptoms, and without sufficient medical coverage, would have been able to afford it. Failure to confirm infection would lead to individuals going about their normal day resulting in a much higher spread rate of the virus. Hospital systems still need to keep running and things are happening faster than they can keep up with – from every side.
To keep hospitals properly staffed, they often employ doctors from private companies. When a patient is seen by one of these doctors even in a hospital emergency room, it’s considered out of network just as if the patient had been treated at a private medical facility. This means health insurance companies are billing patients based on the employment status of the doctor treating them, rather than by the medical facility they’re admitted to for testing.
The unresolved conflict between law and hospital policy
Hospital policy doesn’t seem to have taken the new law related to coronavirus into account, which is only adding to the stress and financial strain of patients who sought what they were led to believe would be free testing. If the new law doesn’t address this system glitch, it seems that emergency rooms may have found a loophole that allows them to charge for coronavirus testing and precautionary care received while awaiting patients’ test results.
Because health insurance companies stand by the policy of billing patients as out of network when treated by a privately contracted doctor in a hospital, drive-thru testing clinics may not be entirely free. Emory University in Georgia and other hospitals have created some of these clinics to streamline testing. If you drive up to be tested and that doctor happens to be a private contractor, you might be facing off with your health insurance provider over testing charges.
The last thing anyone dealing with COVID-19 needs right now is to open their mail to a surprise hospital bill they were led to believe would never arrive. Many Americans are struggling to pay their everyday expenses without the addition of unexpected health care charges beyond their control. The entities providing and billing for medical care need to be brought into compliance with the new COVID-19 testing law in the interest of public health. As states begin relaxing stay-at-home orders, free testing is going to remain a necessity to prevent increased spread of the virus.
The attorneys at Harris Lowry Manton LLP understand that healthcare workers are caught in an impossible situation between trying to protect themselves and the public from this pandemic. Hospitals and insurers must focus on correcting billing issues so that these essential workers can continue to flatten the curve. If you experience an injury related to coronavirus, we invite you to call our Savannah office at 912-417-3774, our Atlanta office at 404-998-8847, or reach out to us through our contact page to tell us your story.