July 7, 2020

$ 199 or $ 6,408 depending on method of payment



Two friends came to take the COVID-19 test at the same clinic in Austin (Texas, USA). For one, who paid in cash, the bill was $ 199, while for the other, who used her medical insurance, it amounted to $ 6,408, a situation that shows the paradoxes of the health system in the United States.

The story, published Monday by The New York Times, illustrates the unpredictability of medical costs in the country, even amid a pandemic in which authorities have taken steps so that everyone can be tested and treated.

Pam LeBlanc and Jimmy Harvey planned to take a trip with a group of friends along the Texas coast, so they decided to take the COVID-19 tests as a precaution before leaving.

For this they went to the Austin Emergency Center, where both samples were taken, which were negative.

The invoices, however, were very different. Harvey, who decided to pay in cash, had to pay $ 199 at the time of the test. LeBlanc, meanwhile, gave out his health insurance information and subsequently received a bill of $ 6,408.

“I assumed, like a fool, that it would be cheaper to use my insurance than to pay in cash,” LeBlanc told the Times, regretting that the cost in his case ended up being 32 times higher than that of his friend, for the same service.

Her insurer negotiated the invoice with the hospital and managed to lower it to $ 1,128, of which she would have to pay $ 928, with most of the cost associated with the laboratory that was responsible for analyzing the samples.

In the end, with the information on the price paid by his friend, LeBlanc managed to negotiate his bill for the same $ 199 and, after telling his case to local television, his insurer began to investigate the charges and the woman ended up not having to pay nothing.

Asked about what happened, a spokeswoman for the Austin Emergency Center explained that the clinic is forced to charge high prices since insurers typically only pay a small portion of the fees.

In places in the United States, for example New York, which has been the great epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the country, it is possible to test for COVID-19 for free, while in general patients do not have to assume the Copayments that may correspond to them habitually.

The situation, however, changes in a very important way from one place to another and depending on the circumstances, since, unlike in other countries, the United States does not have a public system of universal care.

The State, however, does provide health coverage programs for many people, for example the elderly or a population with few economic resources.

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