The costs of Covid-19 are felt in many ways, but as a Texas man is finding out, merely being tested carries a staggering 5 digit fee.
When Travis Warner, of Dallas, Texas, decided to get tested for Covid-19 at the free-standing SignatureCare Emergency Center in Lewisville, Texas, he was relieved to later find out he was negative for the sickness. His satisfaction at being able to return to work quickly turned to dismay, however, when he saw the $56,384 bill for his visit.
The bill included the PCR diagnostic test, which Warner received as well as the somewhat less accurate rapid antigen test due to the urgency in being able to return to work, which accounted for $54,000. The remaining $2,384 was generated from taxes and other miscellaneous administrative costs. Demonstrating just how arbitrary the price was, his wife, who received the same test on the same day at the same facility, was billed “only” $2,000.
Warner is self-employed, and his health care plan is a personal one via Molina Healthcare (his wife has a separate plan with them). After having to negotiate with the hospital, he managed to get his bill down to $16,915.20, which Molina did agree to cover. Molina later told National Public Radio (NPR) that “This matter was a provider billing error which Molina identified and corrected.”
For in-network providers, the insurance company handles the negotiations. For out-of-network providers, the pricing becomes opaque and can be difficult to negotiate, especially for individuals who aren’t the professional experts an insurance company uses when negotiating. Since Warner had to drive 30 minutes away from his home due to availability of the tests at the time (Warners’ tests were done in June of 2020), his visit to the Emergency Center in Lewisville was considered out-of-network, and it looked like he might be stuck with the full bill.
This isn’t the first time a SignatureCare facility has been in the news for price gouging, either. In August of 2020, Rachel de Cordova told the Texas Tribune about a $175 Covid-19 test (which is still the official listed price by SignatureCare) in July of that year that ballooned into a $2,479 bill. Due to the fact that SignatureCare has no existing agreement with her provider, the charges are not set in stone beforehand and she was potentially liable for it all.
Warner’s bill for over $50,000 still holds the current record for such gouging, though, which was described by Loren Adler, director of the USC-Brookings Shaeffer Initiative for Health Policy, as “astronomical,” and “egregious,” to NPR.
SignatureCare Emergency Center is part of a group of hospitals considered “free-standing” emergency rooms (ER’s), all owned by the same company, over a dozen in total. While laws in Texas have been passed in an attempt to rein in price gouging by free-standing ER’s, the Insurance Trade Association issued a report which asserts that “price gouging by certain providers continues to be a widespread problem.”
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