The answer should be ‘yes’. From an economist’s perspective, prices for goods and services should generally be set at marginal cost unless there are externalities. In the case of COVID-19, there are clear externalities. By finding out that someone is COVID-19 positive, one could not only treat the patient (not an externality) but also the individual could be quarantined so they do not infect other people (a clear externality). Further, more extensive testing provides information to public health officials (another clear externality) to help inform policymaking.
In this case, Congress agrees with the economic logic. As Kaiser Health News reports:
In late March, Congress passed two laws, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the CARES Act, that essentially stated that not only does testing have to be covered, but patients shouldn’t have to pay a dime.
It appears, however, that in some cases patients may be liable for copayments.
The issue comes down to an interpretation of whether the new federal legislation applies to health plans offered by larger employers. Those companies, which usually have at least a few hundred employees, often use their own money to pay claims as a way to drive down costs…So BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee may be on an employee’s insurance card, but the insurer is just managing the payments. The employer’s money pays the claims; these plans are often called self-funded or self-insured, and it may not be clear to employees that they are in such a plan.
According to multiple sources, many of the companies with those plans are operating as if they’re exempt from the new federal rules.
So are you likely to get billed if you get a COVID-19 test? The answer is ‘no’. Most self-insured health plans do cover 100% of the costs for a COVID-19 test. Further, many providers–including high-profile health systems such as the Cleveland Clinic, Duke Health, NYU Lagone Health, UCLA and others–will not charge patients any copayments.
In short, if you are worried about having COVID-19, don’t worry about the copayment. Get tested!
COVID-19 tests are not “free.” The testing providers are not providing them for free. Someone has to pay for them, whether it is an employer or an insurance company. Note that the CARES Act requires health plans to pay for for COVID-19 testing performed by a non-network provider at what is in effect whatever cost the provider wants to charge (as long as it publicizes the price on its website). In my view, that part of the Act was not that well thought out.