Durham couple charged for COVID-19 test; Here's how to make sure you don't face unexpected charges

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's a test that's supposed to be free, yet ABC11 viewers continue to reach out after being charged for a COVID-19 test. Here's what you need to know to make sure you're not charged. And yes, it matters where you go to get tested.

Doug Koenig and his wife wanted to make sure they were COVID-19 free before visiting with their daughter Tonya.

The couple scheduled to get a COVID-19 test at a Triangle business that offers it.

Koenig's wife got tested first.

"She showed up with her Medicare card, which they took down and they said, 'No, we don't do Medicare, come back with $100.' So she went to the bank and got her $100 out," Doug Koenig said.

Koenig said after his wife paid the $100 and got tested, he did the same thing but before getting tested, he questioned again why they had to pay.

"I said, 'Why isn't it on Medicare?' and she said, 'we didn't take Medicare. So, she took the $100 and I asked for a receipt, and she said, 'oh, you'll get the receipt in the email along with your test results," Koenig recalled.

Both of the Koenigs' tests came back negative, and they thought nothing of it until they looked online and realized the testing center billed Medicare.

Medicare paid the $100 for the test, so Koenig said he contacted the testing center.

"We called them up and they said, 'Oh you know, well, of course, we bill Medicare.' So now, it's like, wait a minute, you told us we had to pay cash and now you're telling us we pay Medicare," he said.

Another ABC11 viewer went to an urgent-care clinic for a COVID-19 test and his insurance was billed $176. The charge was not for the test, but for seeing a physician during the test. Though insurance covered $60 of it, he was left to pay for the rest.

COVID-19 tests are available at no cost nationwide at health centers and select pharmacies.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act ensures that COVID-19 testing is free to anyone in the United States, including the uninsured. North Carolina Commissioner of Insurance Mike Causey urged those seeking a test to do their research before they get it.

"There is no co-pays for COVID testing, it's absolutely free," Causey said.

What you need to be aware of is that some private clinics or urgent-care centers require you to see a physician before you get a test, or they might charge you other fees.

"If you go to a doctor and told you have to have this diagnostic test, and this diagnostic test that they want to charge you for, ask a lot of questions. Regardless of whether it's Medicare or private insurance, there should be no cost to the consumer for COVID testing," Causey said.

If you get a surprise bill, you can file an appeal and dispute the charges. The NC Department of Insurance also wants to hear from you if you're having trouble with a bill. You can file a complaint here.

When it comes to Koenig's case, he said: "I'm not complaining about the test, right? We got our test results. Just like we asked, so that part was fine. I just don't like the double-dipping."

Once the Troubleshooter questioned the testing center, the Koenigs got a refund of $200. The owner said he has no record of them paying cash; instead marks it on the testing form but admits they don't give receipts. He added they do accept Medicare and there should be no charge for the COVID-19 tests unless insurance refuses to pay for it.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein's Office also offers these tips on how to avoid a surprise charge while getting a COVID-19 test:

  • Get tested at one of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Service No-Cost Community Testing Events.
  • If possible, get your test at a public testing site. Sometimes, private clinics or hospitals charge patients a "facility fee" that can amount to more money than the test itself.
  • Ask your doctor if you'll be charged for other services before your visit. Sometimes, health care providers administer and charge for tests for multiple illnesses along with a COVID-19 test.
  • If you're uninsured, ask your health care provider how they bill uninsured patients. The federal government has created a provider relief fund that offers reimbursement for providers for some COVID-19-related costs.
  • If you get an unexpected charge, call our office. Our consumer protection specialists can help North Carolinians seek relief and dispute charges if necessary.
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