‘An Arm and a Leg’: How to Avoid a Big Bill for Your COVID Test

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Tests for the coronavirus are supposed to be free. And, usually, they are. But sometimes … things happen. Here’s how to keep those things from happening to you.

New York Times reporter Sarah Kliff has been asking readers to send in their COVID-testing bills. She’s now seen hundreds of them, and she ran down for us the most common ways things can go sideways, and how to avoid them.

First off, she said: “I don’t want people to think, ‘Holy crap,  I should just not get tested for coronavirus because it’s going to cost me a ton of money.’ You absolutely should. And the odds are that you will not get a surprise bill, and it will cost zero dollars.” Still, if only 2% of people end up with a surprise bill and a million people a day are getting coronavirus tests, that’s a lot of surprise bills, she noted.

Kliff’s top tip is to avoid getting a test in an emergency room, where you might get charged a “facility fee” that your insurance doesn’t cover.

“An Arm and a Leg” is a co-production of Kaiser Health News and Public Road Productions.

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Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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