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Covid-19 FAQ

From unemployment to uninsured, all your most frequently asked questions in one place

Covid-19 Frequently Asked Questions

I have health insurance. Will I be billed for a Covid-19 test?

I am uninsured. Will I be billed for a Covid-19 test?

How much does a Covid-19 test cost?

I have Covid-19 symptoms. What should I do?

How much does treatment cost for Covid-19?

What are some options for mitigating costs after being hospitalized with Covid-19?

I am newly unemployed. What should I do about health insurance?

I’ve been furloughed from my job. Do I still have insurance?

What kind of insurance can I get?

Should I buy a short-term plan or a Christian ministry plan?

Should I buy an individual plan outside of the Marketplace?

I declined Medicare coverage to stay on my employer plan, but just lost my job and insurance. Is it too late to sign up for Medicare?

I lost my job but I think I’ll get a new one soon. Should I bother buying my own insurance?

I am collecting unemployment insurance. Will that interfere with my ability to sign-up for Medicaid?

I have new coverage and my preferred provider or therapist is no longer in-network. What can I do?

 

I have health insurance. Will I be billed for a Covid-19 test?

You shouldn’t be! People with insurance (and that includes private plans, self-insured plans, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.)  shouldn’t have any out-of-pocket costs for testing and for related diagnostic and administrative costs. Therefore you shouldn’t receive a bill for facility fees or for related testing to rule out other conditions, like the flu, during that visit either. 

However, plans do not have to pay for testing done for workplace safety or public health surveillance, so if your job requires you to obtain a test– or regular testing– you should clarify who will pay for it.

If you have symptoms and need a test, try to stay within your plan’s network to avoid a surprise bill. Call ahead to clarify that you won’t receive a bill. 

If you’ve already been tested and received a bill, remember to delay before you pay with our medical billing tips. If you need to formally appeal a bill, consult Patient Advocate Foundation’s Guide to the Appeals process.

 

I am uninsured. Will I be billed for a Covid-19 test?

Maybe. Some providers may have signed up for the Provider Relief Fund, in which case they can not bill you separately and you shouldn’t incur out-of-pocket costs. However, not all providers have signed up and so they may bill you for a test and all the other associated costs. 

If you need a test, call your provider and ask where to go for a test. Try to avoid a hospital if you can because you may incur larger costs. Instead, call your local health department or the office of a primary care provider  and explain that you are not insured and ask if they provide free testing. If they do not, ask for the cash price. You may need to call multiple providers to find a site with free testing or with the lowest cash price.

 

How much does a Covid-19 test cost?

There is not one price for the Covid-19 test. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which sets Medicare reimbursement rates, currently pays $51-100 per test. There is no cap on what a provider may charge, though, and some may set the price well over $200.

Keep in mind, too, that the price of a test is not the only thing for which you may be billed if you don’t have insurance. Depending on where you are tested, you may also be billed for a facility fee or other items that could bring your bill up over $1000. For this reason, we recommend getting tested in a community health center or a local provider’s office rather than a hospital unless you’ve clarified what you’ll be billed ahead of time. Of course, if you are having difficulty breathing or experiencing a medical emergency, please do not hesitate to seek emergency care.

 

I have Covid-19 symptoms. What should I do?

Call your provider and ask! Unless you are having difficulty breathing or experiencing a medical emergency, do not go straight to a hospital, as you may just be sent elsewhere or experience higher costs. If you are uninsured, try to clarify whether you will be billed at the facility where you are directed. 

 

How much does treatment cost for Covid-19?

The answer will vary wildly from person to person. If you are prescribed medication and self-treat at home, your treatment costs will be limited to those medications (along with the additional expenses of being sick and unable to work.) However, if you are hospitalized, your out-of-pocket costs will vary based on the type of insurance you have and the location of your treatment.

Expect to pay for your typical hospital coinsurance and fees. Even with insurance, you could still pay hundreds, if not thousands, out-of-pocket, depending on the length of your stay and the severity of your case.

Luckily, some insurers are waiving any cost-sharing for their patients. AHIP has a comprehensive list here.

If you are uninsured, you may receive a very large bill for thousands of dollars. Do not panic immediately. You can ask the hospital for financial aid, which you may qualify for, especially if you are unemployed or low-income and are uninsured. Don’t forgot to consult our Delay Before You Pay tips.

What are some options for mitigating costs after being hospitalized with Covid-19?

People who have little to no income who are hospitalized should apply for retroactive Medicaid coverage. Many hospitals will have someone available to help you. If you’re on the cusp of qualifying, we think it’s best practice to apply because of how rapidly some requirements and eligibility standards are changing during the pandemic.

Financial aid is available for uninsured people. Start with the hospital itself. Always ask: they may not volunteer that information. Charities also have funds available for people who are uninsured and are rapidly setting up dedicated funds for people who are hospitalized with coronavirus.

Patient Advocate Foundation’s National Financial Resource Directory is a great way to search for both local and national resources.  If you have high medical bills and are struggling to find financial aid, consider looking for help in other areas outside medical bills to help free up your financial resources. For instance, you may qualify for housing assistance, SNAP or WIC benefits or other, local resources.

 

I am newly unemployed. What should I do about health insurance?

It’s stressful for most people right now, but particularly if you’ve been laid off and have lost coverage. Please know that as overwhelming as it may be, it’s important to look for coverage quickly, because in most cases you only have a limited amount of time to buy a new plan through the Marketplace after you lose coverage. The last thing you want to do is remain uninsured, because as expensive as insurance may be, the cost of being uninsured will be higher if you need medical care.

If you’ve been laid off, try to find out as much information as possible from your former employer about your coverage. There’s no blanket rule here: for some, coverage may end immediately, for others it may go until the end of the month. Either way, you should immediately start planning to transition to a new plan.

You can find out more about your plan options here.

I’ve been furloughed from my job. Do I still have insurance?

If you’re furloughed, ask your human resources representative, or if you don’t have one, your boss, to see if your coverage will continue while you’re furloughed. You may want to ask through email so the answer is in writing, but if you need to call to get a quick response, please do so.

 

What kind of insurance can I get?

There are four general options when looking for new coverage: COBRA, a family member’s plan, the Marketplace and a public plan like Medicaid or Medicare. Qualifying for Medicaid will vary from state to state, but if you find you are on  the cusp, we encourage you to apply because states may expand or change their requirements during the pandemic. (For instance, Oklahoma just voted to expand Medicaid.) You can choose to keep your employer plan through COBRA, but most people will find this option to be too expensive without their employer subsidies. Please note, though, that if you have an HSA, you could use those funds to pay for those premiums.

You may be able to enroll in a family member’s plan. For instance, if you are 26 or younger, you may qualify to enroll as a dependent on a parent’s plan. For other adults, you may be able to enroll in your spouse or partner’s plan.

For most people, the Marketplace is probably the best place to find comprehensive coverage. Depending on where you live, you can access either the federal marketplace or your state Marketplace. Losing your job will qualify you for a special enrollment period for either option. 

Before choosing a plan, take a careful look at your budget and your health care needs. What is the maximum you can spend per month on a premium? Do you have any predictable health care expenses, like regular medications you take or appointments you need to keep? Then, when you evaluate the available plans, make sure you check to see how much ALL your cost-sharing is: not just your premium, but your copays, deductibles and coinsurance, too. You may find that a plan with a low monthly premium still has such high deductibles that you may end up paying much more than one with just a slightly higher premium but a lower deductible. 

If you have preferred providers, make sure before you click that sign up button that you’ve verified that they accept that plan. 

On npaf.org, under #GetCovered, we have a list of Resources available, along with an embedded calculator from the Kaiser Family Foundation that will estimate your subsidy. 

 

Should I buy a short-term plan or a Christian ministry plan?

We do not recommend short-term plans or Christian ministry plans because they can still discriminate based on pre-existing conditions, impose caps on coverage (meaning they stop paying for your care once you reach a certain expense level) and do not have to cover the essential health benefits, like hospital care, prescription drugs or maternity coverage. If you have one of these plans and need expensive care — and if you’re hospitalized for Covid-19 or a myriad of other conditions, this may very well apply to you — you would be left with an enormous bill. A Christian ministry plan may also deny coverage for care the plan deems against their faith.

 

Should I buy an individual plan outside of the Marketplace?

An insurer may sell individual plans outside of the Marketplaces, but consumers should be very careful to ensure their plan covers all their needs, as these plans do not have to adhere to the same standards as a Marketplace plan. You also can not use your subsidies for these plans, so you may end up paying more.

 

I declined Medicare coverage to stay on my employer plan, but just lost my job and insurance. Is it too late to sign up for Medicare?

You are probably already enrolled in Medicare Part A, but for Part B you have 8 months to enroll after your employer coverage ends. If you wait until after this time period you will have to pay a penalty each month with your premium. However, Medicare Advantage plans are still available as an option.

 

I lost my job but I think I’ll get a new one soon. Should I bother buying my own insurance?

You never know when you’ll start a new job or what kind of benefits it will offer until the papers have been signed. It’s up to each individual to evaluate their willingness to be exposed to risk, but we recommend that you still sign up for a health insurance plan in the interim, since you can cancel it when you get a new job.

Going without coverage means you risk a medical emergency while uninsured. Health care costs– and not just for hospitals– can be very high. Further, if you are uninsured you may not be able to get reliable care outside of an emergency room, particular with your current providers. You can always cancel your plan if you get a new job, but most people don’t know when that will be, or even if that new coverage will start immediately. 

Remember: finding a new job could take a long time. Since the job market is unpredictable, controlling what you can with careful decision-making that minimizes risk is the best approach.

 

I am collecting unemployment insurance. Will that interfere with my ability to sign-up for Medicaid?

It might. States have flexibility here for counting the base unemployment benefit when they evaluate your eligibility. The additional $600 per week (currently expired) should not count towards income when calculating eligibility for Medicaid.

 

I have new coverage and my preferred provider or therapist is no longer in-network. What can I do?

You can always ask to see them at the out-of-network rate, which will incur larger costs. If you do, talk to their billing office ahead of time to make sure you know exactly what your costs will be by asking if they will bill you for the balance after your insurer pays their rate. 

You can also ask for the cash price for their services, which may be lower.