Many Americans are all too familiar with medical debt and looking for ways to get out of it. And with the sudden onset and spread of coronavirus ( the virus that causes COVID-19), most of us have questions about how we’ll pay for testing and treatment, if either becomes necessary.
As the country struggles to limit the spread of the disease, one concern is that people will avoid testing and treatment because of the costs involved, and that could put more and more people at risk. On the other hand, panic surrounding the pandemic can lead some to seek unnecessary testing and treatment, resulting in high bills and more medical debt. Below are some points to keep in mind as you work to stay informed, avoid debt, and navigate these important decisions.
How much does coronavirus testing cost?
Tests performed by the CDC, state, or city public health labs are free, while private labs may charge for testing. If the lab you go to does put a price tag on testing, the cost to you would normally depend on your insurance coverage.
However, action taken by Congress and the Trump Administration have made coronavirus testing free. For example, Medicare and Medicaid both cover the entire cost of the test. Additionally, the recent Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires employee group health plans to cover the cost of the test and health care visits that “relate to the furnishing or administration” of a COVID-19 test. The new law is also supposed to make testing free for those who don’t have insurance. Lastly, the CARES Act strengthened those provisions to prohibit out-of-network providers from balance billing patients for Covid-19 testing.
What are the other medical costs of COVID-19?
Of course, coronavirus testing is not the only cost that has the potential to add to your medical debt. What’s more likely to add to your financial burden is the cost associated with treatment — doctor’s office visits, trips to the emergency room or urgent care, and hospital stays. And, because rules surrounding who can be tested for coronavirus vary, you’re also likely to incur costs for other, more routine tests like those for the flu or pneumonia.
Many insurance company executives have said that they will cover treatment just as they do with other infectious diseases, and some have agreed to waive copays associated with the treatment. However, just because something is “covered” by insurance doesn’t mean it’s paid for. You still have to consider your annual deductibles and coverage percentages, especially with regard to emergency room visits and out-of-network providers.
Ways to avoid debt before you’re affected by coronavirus
So, what steps can you take to make sure you and your family receive the medical care you need, while also avoiding extra medical debt as much as possible? One smart step you can take now is to call your insurance company before you feel ill or think you need a test, so that you can understand and prepare for all the potential costs you might face. If you don’t know, ask what’s covered, what your deductibles are, and who your in-network providers are.
If you’re uninsured, testing should be free. You could also search for a CDC or public health lab where the test is administered for free.
If at all possible, start putting aside funds as emergency savings. Set up and stick to a budget, cutting out all unnecessary expenses. This will be especially necessary if you’re uninsured, underinsured, if your income takes a hit due to social distancing or quarantine, or if expenses like childcare increase.
Steps to consider if you’re worried about symptoms
First, you should know the main symptoms of coronavirus and COVID-19 — the disease caused by the virus — namely fever, cough, and shortness of breath. During what’s normally cold and flu season, it’s hard to tell what is a bad cold, and what is something more serious.
Second, if you are concerned about symptoms and think you might have the virus, many providers now ask that you call your primary care physician’s office or an advice nurse hotline before heading to the doctor, urgent care, or emergency room. Some insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid, will cover telemedicine in an effort to curb the spread of disease and reduce costs, and this could help you avoid expensive and risky visits to an overcrowded ER. The good news is that people who are only mildly sick with COVID-19 can be treated at home, so even if you do test positive, you may be able to avoid some of those hefty hospital bills.
However, it’s important to note that the CDC has also outlined “emergency warning signs” for COVID-19, which warrant immediate medical attention. These include:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion or disorientation
- Bluish lips or face
Of course, the safety and well-being of you and your loved ones is more important than avoiding any possibility of new debt. So, if you see or experience these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
Seek treatment for your medical debt
If you’re struggling with debt or already falling behind on payments to creditors, it might be time to take action. Freedom Debt Relief is here to help you understand many options for dealing with debt, not just the debt relief program we offer. Our Certified Debt Consultants can help you find a solution that will put you on the path to a better financial future. Request an evaluation to understand what the best option for you might be.
Editor’s Note March 19, 2020: This is a rapidly changing situation. This information was the most up to date at the time of writing. If more changes are made to policies which will affect medical costs and debt, we will try and update this post as needed. Updated links added on May 22, 2020.