Coronavirus testing needs to be cheap

What first made news as a coronavirus-testing outrage and nightmare turned out to have a happy ending — but the tale of the teacher’s $10,000 bill to not get tested still holds some important lessons.

As The City reports, Brooklyn teacher Erin McCarthy went to the emergency room at NYU Langone Health-Cobble Hill on March 2 with fever, headaches and chest symptoms shortly after returning from high-risk parts of Italy.

Yet she was ineligible for testing: She’s not elderly and had no other medical issues — and Italy wasn’t yet on the city’s list of high-risk countries. Instead, she was simply told to self-quarantine.

Days later she got the bill: $10,382.96. And that was for not being tested.

The good news? Her insurer negotiated a far lower fee; it paid only $2,957.31 and left McCarthy with just a $75 co-pay. And the city has since eased restrictions for testing: She got screened, and doesn’t have the virus.

Insurers nationwide are now waiving coronavirus test co-pays completely and have expanded coverage to include the disease.

That’s all great. Yet it’s still vital to ensure that anyone who truly needs it is tested, regardless of wealth or insurance status. And barriers for tests shouldn’t be high: As kits become more available, far better to check too many possible cases than too few.

If such principles need to be enshrined in law (and backed with subsidies for those who can’t afford it), so be it. There’s a clear and compelling public benefit: More testing can help contain the virus sooner — saving lives, curbing medical costs and restoring economic stability.

Meanwhile, wouldn’t it be nice if medical providers (especially hospitals) could send out clear, meaningful bills? If Congress can agree on anything to improve health care, forcing better billing is a fine start.

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