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If you need to be tested for coronavirus, don’t fear the bill: Pa. health secretary

Patriot-News - 3/6/2020

People shouldn’t fear getting hit with a big bill if they need to be tested for coronavirus, Pennsylvania officials said Friday morning.

There have been stories around the country of people receiving exorbitant bills for the tests, although at least some of those have been debunked.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said there is no charge for tests done by the state lab. She said sources such as the state Medicaid program for people with lower incomes could potentially cover tests, and the state is urging private health insurers to cover tests.

“We will do everything we can do to make sure people are covered,” Levine said.

More: Pa. governor signs disaster declaration to aid response to coronavirus

Health insurer Highmark on Friday said its health insurance plans will cover tests, although it noted the requirement doesn’t apply to self-insured employers, who set their own coverage policies. A national association representing the nation’s major health insurers this week urged members to cover tests.

While the state won’t charge for tests it performs, that won’t be the case with commercial testing labs which are now beginning to offer coronavirus tests, Levine said.

Up until the beginning of this week, all testing was done by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC began supplying state labs with test kits beginning Monday. However, Vice President Mike Pence acknowledged the CDC’s supply of tests might not be able to keep up with demand.

Levine said on Friday there is no backlog for testing in Pennsylvania, which announced its first two coronavirus cases on Friday morning. She said the state lab can do 20-25 tests per day, and will soon be able to do 125-150 tests per day.

She refused to say how many tests the state has done.

The test involves a nasal swab, with the sample then sent to a state laboratory near Philadelphia. If the result is positive, it is forwarded to the CDC in Atlanta for confirmation.

People are being tested according to CDC protocol, meaning people can’t decide on their own to be tested. Testing has been restricted largely to people who have traveled to areas of outbreaks, who have had contact with someone known to be infected, and have coronavirus symptoms, which include fever and cough. The CDC recently relaxed the standards to include people whose doctor concludes a test is warranted.

Levine on Friday said people who believe they may need to be tested should call the health department at 877-724-3258 or call their doctor, who in turn will consult with the health department regarding the need for a test.

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(c)2020 The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pa.)

Visit The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pa.) at www.pennlive.com

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