Fact check: Cost of COVID-19 testing is complicated, varies by patient

Fact check: Cost of COVID-19 testing is complicated, varies by patient

Claim: Testing kits in the U.S. cost $119, while they are $180 for 100 in Germany.

The importance of widespread COVID-19 testing has continued to dominate discussion about the pandemic, prompting politicians to enact measures in an attempt to improve access to tests and health care companies and providers to change their policy to do the same.

But the price of getting tested has evoked confusion.

Fact-checkers recently debunked a viral claim that receiving a test for the coronavirus cost one person more than $3,000. Now a different claim is making the rounds.

A Facebook post that has amassed more than 30,000 shares says testing kits in the U.S. cost $119 each. The writer was trying to make the point that test kits are far more expensive in the United States than in Germany, where the post claims a kit of 100 tests is $180.

It’s unclear whether the post refers to the price health care providers pay for test kits or the price individuals pay to be tested one time. USA TODAY reached out to the Facebook user for clarification but did not receive a response.

But is the claim true either way?

More:Health care expert answers 6 questions about COVID-19 antibody testing

Cost of test kits

A “test kit,” as the claim states, is a box of supplies to administer tests to diagnose people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s initial test kit, for example, could “test approximately 700 to 800 patient specimens,” according to a February news release.

Test kits from private companies can sometimes test hundreds of specimens. But “the actual number of people who could be diagnosed with each will be lower because patients may have multiple samples or samples may be run in duplicate,” Jessica McDonald, a science writer with a PhD in virology, explained in March for FactCheck.org.

The Food and Drug Administration’s website lists more than 80 approved SARS-CoV-2 test kit manufacturers. Many of these manufacturers’ websites do not list the costs of these kits, making it difficult to know how much health care providers pay for them.

USA TODAY contacted a handful of these companies for their prices, most of which did not immediately respond. Ruben Argueta, director of investor relations at Quidel Corp., said one of its tests costs “about $23 per test to the end user, in this case our health care providers,” with 25 tests coming in one kit.

In March, Bloomberg reported on a German biotech company that got an early start on developing a COVID-19 test. The manufacturer has made 40,000 test kits, which is enough to administer 4 million tests (meaning there are 100 tests per kit). The cost is reported to be about $180.

More:3 reasons coronavirus testing is not a magic wand for businesses looking to reopen safely

Cost of tests for individuals

The cost of testing for individuals varies based on who administers the test and an individual's insurance provider and plan.

Tests given by the CDC or at public health departments are free. And Vice President Mike Pence in March deemed coronavirus tests an essential health benefit, which under the Affordable Care Act means Medicare, Medicaid and private insurers will cover it.

People with private or employee health insurance might have to pay for some of the cost of testing. The cost varies based on insurance provider and plan, but some large providers have pledged to waive all patient costs on coronavirus testing.

Aetna, a health insurer owned by CVS, announced it will cover the cost of testing “with no out-of-pocket costs or cost sharing,” CNBC reported. Cigna, another large insurer, is doing the same.

Cars line up for coronavirus testing in Los Angeles on May 2, 2020.

The board of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group that represents many large publicly traded insurers including Humana, a majority of the Blue Cross plans and UnitedHealthcare, said in a recent blog post its members moved quickly to “eliminate patient cost sharing for COVID-19 diagnostic testing and treatment.”

Some insurers did not include end dates for these offers in their statements in the AHIP blog post.

Due to a limited number of available tests, people may still need to get a doctor’s approval or alternative tests that may be pricey before receiving a test as per CDC, local or state guidelines.

Keeping test costs low

A few state officials have taken action to lower the price of testing.

The Hill reported in March “governors in New York, Washington and California issued guidance … prohibiting health insurers from imposing cost-sharing on individuals seeking coronavirus tests.” These guidelines do not extend to self-funded programs offered by employers.

But there are holes in these protections, as Kaiser Health News recently reported: “The law prohibits insurers from charging patients for testing, but it does not block medical providers from doing so. If an insurer does not cover the total amount charged by a provider, the patient may get balance-billed, or slapped with a surprise charge.”

Individuals not covered by insurance, which the census in 2018 forecast at more than 27 million, or 8.5% of the population, can receive free testing at state or CDC facilities. Otherwise, they may have to pay for their tests.

An at-home coronavirus test

The Facebook post may be referring to the FDA’s first authorized at-home test, which does cost $119. CBS News reported on the at-home test on April 22, the same day the Facebook post was published.

That test would not be permitted in New York, New Jersey, Maryland or Rhode Island, which have laws in place that restrict self-administered tests. And a LabCorp spokesman told CBS News some health care providers may cover part of the cost.

Our ruling: Partly false

The price of getting tested for the coronavirus in the United States is dependent upon many factors including location, insurance company and insurance plan. It is an oversimplification to say that receiving a test costs $119. It is entirely possible that testing would be free.

The claim-maker used the term “test kits,” which makes it unclear whether they were referring to the price of individual tests or the price health care providers pay for a kit of many tests. But the price of many of these test kits aren’t publicly available, making it difficult to know their prices. While the at-home test does reportedly cost $119, insurance providers may cover part of this cost.

And the price of a German test was one manufacturer's test kit cost.

We rate this claim as PARTLY FALSE, based on our research.

Our fact-check sources:

Kaiser Health News, “COVID Tests Are Free, Except When They’re Not,” April 29, 2020FactCheck.org, “COVID-19 Tests Don’t Cost Over $3,000,” March 3, 2020Facebook post, April 22, 2020Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Shipping of CDC 2019 Novel Coronavirus Diagnostic Test Kits Begins,” Feb. 6, 2020FactCheck.org, “The Facts on Coronavirus Testing,” March 10, 2020Food and Drug Administration, "Emergency Use Authorizations"Email interview, Ruben Argueta, Director of Investor Relations at Quidel Corporation, June 3, 2020CNBC, “Private labs start testing for coronavirus, prompting concerns about cost and insurance co-pays,” March 6, 2020CNBC, “The coronavirus test will be covered by Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance, Pence says,” March 4, 2020AHIP, “Answering the Call: Health Insurance Providers Act Swiftly as Part of the COVID-19 Solution,” April 2020AHIP, “Health Insurance Providers Respond to Coronavirus (COVID-19)”The Hill, “Coronavirus testing could cost some patients extra,” March 5, 2020U.S. Census Bureau, “Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2018,” Nov. 8, 2019CBS News, “FDA authorizes first at-home coronavirus test,” April 22, 2020Bloomberg, A Berlin Biotech Company Got a Head Start on Coronavirus Tests, March 12, 2020

Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.

Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/06/09/fact-check-cost-covid-19-testing-complicated-varies-patient/3139091001/

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