2.7 Million Are Uninsured as Coronavirus Hits Florida

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By Giselle Balido

March 11, 2020

Although covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and private health plans, the COVID-19 test could prove too costly for almost three million uninsured Floridians.

As the number of Coronavirus cases diagnosed in Florida rise to 23 (21 residents and 2 non-Florida residents), the need for rapid testing becomes more urgent. But although the COVID-19 test for Coronavirus will be covered by Medicaid, Medicare and –under the essential health benefits established under the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) – private insurance plans, a large percentage of Floridians without health insurance or underinsured could be especially vulnerable to an outbreak of Coronavirus.

As announced by Vice President Pence, Medicaid, which applies to people who fall below a determined income level, and Medicare, which applies to all Americans over 65, will cover the cost of the test. Private insurance plans will also cover the test since, as established by ACA, it is an essential health benefit.

Still, with 2.7 million Floridians without health insurance, the state of Florida could be especially hit by an outbreak of COVID-19. In fact, Florida’s uninsured rate is currently at about 13 percent, above the national average of 9 percent.

One reason for this high rate is that, under former Republican Gov. Rick Scott, Florida was one of the states that opted not to expand Medicaid during the Obama administration. This federally funded expansion would have provided 391,000 more Floridians with health insurance. As it is, approximately 52 percent of the uninsured don’t have a primary care physician or clinic they visit regularly. 

Tests completed by a Center for Disease Control and Prevention CDC, state, or city public health laboratory are free, though they only run a small percentage of the tests. But this is what we know so far. To be completely sure, you need to call the Florida Health Department to determine whether they provide the test for free. Tests run at private or academic labs aren’t free. They could bill your health insurance for the cost, and because most deductibles reset at the beginning of the year, a person could end up paying before their medical costs are covered by their insurance. People with high-deductible plans, which require patients to spend a set amount toward healthcare before coverage kicks in, could also be hit with testing costs. Those who are uninsured will be billed directly.

So if a patient is tested at a hospital or urgent care clinic they may be expected to make a co-payment if they have insurance, or pay out-of-pocket if they don’t. This means that many people who may be symptomatic or are concerned about having been exposed to the virus could go untested, daunted by the costs of the test.

Early in March, Democratic chairs of the House Oversight Committee wrote the Department of Health and Human Services asking how HHS plans to ensure that the uninsured and underinsured are tested and treated for COVID-19. 

“Testing and treatment costs of thousands of dollars will cause many uninsured and underinsured individuals to avoid care for coronavirus-like symptoms,” the chairs stated. “That will not only hurt those who go untreated, but it will also hasten the spread of COVID-19.” To avoid the rapid spread of the virus, widespread testing of people at risk of infection is urgently needed.



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