LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — With the latest surge of COVID-19 fueled by the most contagious variant yet, the costs of getting infected could weigh heavier than you think.
Retired Lexington resident Betsy Stevens has made it her mission to be as cautious as possible over the past two years.
"As my husband and I are older, we've had some health issues. We've had to be careful," said Stevens. "I still wear my mask in any store that I go in."
As cases rose in her area, Stevens did what she'd always done- looked for the nearest testing site. However, she was surprised when her search turned into a whole day.
"I called around for a day and I was very frustrated. And I almost thought well, I'll just wait and see if you know, I actually get sicker but I ended up just going the next day and getting it but how many people were just going to not do anything at that point and just not get tested and not know and just be out in the public," said Stevens.
She was also frustrated when she heard she would not be allowed to choose which type of test she received and may have needed to meet with a doctor after. All costs that may or may not be covered by her insurance. The process only made her more concerned.
"I'm very blessed that I do have good insurance, but it just started concerning me that people without insurance, were gonna have a harder time getting tested," said Stevens.
Many people like Stevens have been surprised to find out the process has changed. The changes made earlier this year are a result of the federal government's decision not to fund many of the programs put in place at the beginning of the pandemic.
"The funding that made it so easy, has just run out and as we reach out to the state say 'hey, is there any way you can continue to support it?' They say look we can only give you what the federal government gives us," said Dr. Luke Murray, Director of Tele-Urgent Care for Wild Health.
Murray says Wild Health which has tested more than 1.5 million people since the pandemic began, is now only testing around 100 to 200 people a day. There are only two sites still open. He says changes with the process and increased access to at-home-test are impacting data reliability.
"In terms of how that's affected COVID testing like statistics, they're less accurate because again, only the folks that are sicker are showing up," said Murray.
Murray says now testing sites like Wild Health are more like medical clinics, where people see providers and may receive bills.
"Patients are used to just driving through our site saying 'hey, I want a rapid test or a PCR test or both' and they don't have to give us any information. Now they need to give us their insurance information and then they come to us and we actually have providers either physically on-site or via telemedicine that are doing a real actual medical assessment," explained Murray.
While the exact costs vary depending on an individual's insurance plan, most insurance companies will reimburse COVID-related medical expenses.
Depending on what testing site you go to, they may not be able to tell you how much of the cost your insurance will pay.
However, from our research in Lexington, the average cost for a PCR test is between $100- $175 without insurance.
Testing facilities and urgent care centers may also determine which test you receive and require you to visit with a provider after a positive test. You may be responsible for the cost that insurance does not cover.
Health insurance companies are also no longer taking on most of the cost of hospital bills related to COVID-19. That means if you have to be hospitalized for the virus, even if you have insurance, you can now get a major bill.
Fair Health, an independent nonprofit that tracks health care costs, estimates without insurance patients in Kentucky are being billed more than $246,000 for a complex case and more than $43,000 for a non-complex case of COVID-19.
Patients with private insurance received a $4,000 bill on average for hospitalization, according to a study done by Michigan Medicine.
CVS and Walgreens are still providing testing, antiviral pills, and vaccines to the uninsured for free, according to their websites.