NEWS

How Can Uninsured Patients Search for COVID-19 Testing and Care After Funding Runs Out?

Covid testing site in San Diego, California

Daniel Knighton / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • The Uninsured Program is set to expire without additional funding, which means uninsured patients may have to pay high costs for COVID-19 treatment or skip care.
  • Other COVID-19 provisions such as Medicaid emergency authorities will also come to an end if the national emergency declaration is lifted sometime this year.
  • For uninsured people worried about finances, here are some places to look for affordable COVID-19 care.

As the White House runs out of COVID-19 funds, uninsured Americans may be among those paying for the consequences.

The federal Uninsured Program will stop accepting reimbursement claims from hospitals and clinics providing COVID-19 tests and treatments to patients who are uninsured. This means health services providers have to front these costs themselves or turn away patients in need.

The deadline to submit claims for reimbursement for testing and caring for uninsured patients is on April 5, if Congress doesn’t approve more funding.

“Running out of money, in particular support for these uninsured programs, will have a very direct impact on the uninsured patients ability to access COVID-19 testing and treatment,” said Loren Adler, associate director of the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy.

He added that the Uninsured Program has served people who were among the hardest to reach and its absence might create barriers to care.

Healthcare providers across the country have released a joint statement calling on Congress to act quickly and approve necessary funds.

Some states have used Medicaid emergency authorities to cover COVID-19 testing and testing-related services for uninsured individuals, according to Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). But only a third of the states have adopted this policy and some have already removed the coverage.

While those without health insurance may be the first to scramble for free testing and treatment, others may not be far behind.

Medicaid emergency authorities and other provisions for COVID-19 response will disappear after the national emergency declaration ends. While President Joe Biden extended the declaration beyond March 1, officials have hinted at an expiration date sometime this summer, Adler said.

Many health experts have voiced opposition to withdrawing COVID-19 funding. Larry Levitt from KFF told AP News that there will be more COVID-19 cases and greater inequity if uninsured people are hesitant to seek treatment because of the cost.

Where to Get Tested or Treated If You’re Uninsured

If you’re uninsured, you can try to get insurance by making use of a special enrollment period in the healthcare.gov marketplace. If you meet the income requirements, you could get a plan that ranges from no cost to several hundred dollars a month.

Several community resources, including pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS, offer low-cost or free COVID-19 testing. Some state health departments may also be working with clinics or health centers to offer similar services. You can still order free at-home tests from the federal government.

Until April 5, you can still check out the Uninsured Program, which offers a database of enrolled providers with reimbursements for COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccines.

If you’re using a provider who is not enrolled in the program, or whose reimbursements have expired, it doesn’t hurt to ask about financial options. Some providers have told local media that they plan to continue to offer as many services for free as they can. Others have at least been transparent about how much patients can expect to pay for a test or other care.

Some providers may also be able to offer resources and support like payment arrangements or they'd be open to cost negotiations. But that's not guaranteed. Without federal funding, it’s unclear how much providers will be able or willing to offer.

Asking for Employer Support

It's worth asking your employer if there's any employee assistance available, especially if your company requires routine testing.

How to Self Advocate

Uninsured patients looking to self advocate for free or cheaper care might want to familiarize themselves with some of these terms and resources.

  • Look for and use terms like “patient advocate” and “financial assistance" when searching for help within a healthcare system.
  • Ask for an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) after getting a medical bill, especially if the bill doesn't seem to add up. You might be able to get some charges removed if they were incorrectly stated.
  • Don’t ignore a bill. If you can’t pay anything at all and a payment plan is out of the question, most healthcare systems have programs to help. The key is to ask them right away. If you just ignore the bill, it might go to collections and harm your credit scores.

How to Look for Affordable Treatment Options

If you're struggling to afford COVID-19 treatment, some options exist.

For starters, a few databases are trying to track the cost of treatment in each state, as well as average cost of hospitalization.

You may also look into volunteering for a clinical trial. Treatment through a trial isn’t always available, but some studies are recruiting patients at every stage of the illness.

What This Means For You

You might have to pay for COVID-19 tests or treatment out-of-pocket soon if Congress doesn't approve more funding for pandemic response. If you're uninsured, check out healthcare.gov to see if you can enroll in a subsidized or free insurance plan.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

By Claire Wolters
Claire Wolters is a Philly-based reporter covering health news for Verywell. She is most passionate about stories that cover real issues and spark change.