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Need a COVID test but uninsured? New $4.8 billion program will help to pay for it

In this Nov. 24, 2020, file photo, a traveler places a swab in a tube after self testing for COVID-19 at a NYC Health + Hospitals mobile testing site in New York’s Penn Station. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday announced it’s directing $4.8 billion toward a program to pay for testing for uninsured people in the U.S. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

In this Nov. 24, 2020, file photo, a traveler places a swab in a tube after self testing for COVID-19 at a NYC Health + Hospitals mobile testing site in New York’s Penn Station. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday announced it’s directing $4.8 billion toward a program to pay for testing for uninsured people in the U.S. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

AP

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Tuesday announced it will direct $4.8 billion in American Rescue Plan funding toward covering the costs of COVID-19 tests for uninsured people.

Here’s what to know about the plan, including how it works and who is eligible.

What is the funding for?

The $4.8 billion will go toward the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HSRA) COVID-19 Uninsured Program.

The program reimburses health care providers who test or treat uninsured patients for COVID-19 and provide coronavirus vaccines to uninsured people.

The $4.8 billion announced Tuesday will be “dedicated to COVID-19 testing.”

“This funding will allow the program to continue reimbursing health care providers for testing uninsured individuals for COVID-19,” HHS says.

How it works

The COVID-19 Uninsured Program reimburses providers “at national Medicare rates” for providing COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines, HHS says.

Patients who are uninsured cannot be billed for these services as the federal government is paying health care providers for their care, the HRSA says.

Those who are billed should contact their provider and ask them to bill the COVID-19 Uninsured Program instead.

“If you receive a bill, and you already paid, you may be owed a refund and you should first speak to the person or facility that sent it. If they don’t cancel the bill or give you a refund, contact the HHS Office of Inspector General Hotline at 1-800-HHS-TIPS or visit https://TIPS.HHS.GOV to file a complaint,” the HRSA says.

Who is eligible

Everyone without health insurance is eligible, regardless of immigration status.

“Testing, treatment or vaccinations paid for by the federal government will not affect anyone’s immigration status or be shared with immigration agencies,” the HRSA says.

Providers may ask for a Social Security number or government-issued identification so they can be reimbursed through the program, but patients are not required to have them.

“You will still be treated, tested or vaccinated for COVID-19 if you are not able to provide a Social Security Number or government ID,” the HRSA says.

For those who are insured, private insurers “generally must” waive cost-sharing payments for COVID-19 testing and other services, HHS says.

“If a patient has insurance and seeks COVID-19 treatment from an out-of-network provider that has received General or Targeted Distributions from the Provider Relief Fund, the provider has agreed not to seek to collect out-of-pocket payments greater than what the patient would have otherwise been required to pay if the care had been provided by an in-network provider,” HHS says.

Why it matters

Roughly 29 million people living in the U.S. are uninsured, HHS says.

“By ensuring programs like the HRSA COVID-19 Uninsured Program remains adequately funded, this administration is removing cost impediments so anyone exposed to COVID-19 may seek appropriate testing and care,” the department says.

As of May 19, HHS says the COVID-19 Uninsured Program has issued about $4 billion in reimbursements for those providing COVID-19 testing. It’s also provided $2.5 billion in reimbursements for COVID-19 treatments and more than $85 million for administering coronavirus vaccines.

“As we vaccinate the country, let’s continue taking the preventive measures necessary to keep the virus under control and prevent it from spreading. Testing remains critical and now it’s available at no cost to those who need it,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “This funding will help ensure everyone has access to testing regardless of whether they have health insurance.”

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Bailey Aldridge is a reporter covering real-time news in North and South Carolina. She has a degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.



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