Better Solutions for Healthcare

KHN: A Covid Test Costing More Than a Tesla? It Happened in Texas.

By Aneri Pattani

September 30, 2021

When covid-19 struck last year, Travis Warner’s company became busier than ever. He installs internet and video systems, and with people suddenly working from home, service calls surged.

He and his employees took precautions like wearing masks and physically distancing, but visiting clients’ homes daily meant a high risk of covid exposure.

“It was just like dodging bullets every week,” Warner said.

In June 2020, an employee tested positive. That sent Warner and his wife on their own hunt for a test.

Because of limited testing availability at the time, they drove 30 minutes from their home in Dallas to a free-standing emergency room in Lewisville, Texas. They received PCR diagnostic tests and rapid antigen tests.

When all their results came back negative, it was a huge relief, Warner said. He eagerly got back to work.

Then the bill came.

The Patient: Travis Warner, 36, is self-employed and bought coverage from Molina Healthcare off the insurance marketplace.

Medical Service: Two covid tests: a diagnostic PCR test, which typically takes a few days to process and is quite accurate, and a rapid antigen test, which is less accurate but produces results in minutes.

Total Bill: $56,384, including $54,000 for the PCR test and the balance for the antigen test and an ER facility fee. Molina’s negotiated rate for both tests and the facility fee totaled $16,915.20, which the insurer paid in full.

Service Provider: SignatureCare Emergency Center in Lewisville, one of more than a dozen free-standing ERs the company owns across Texas.

What Gives: Throughout the pandemic, stories of shockingly high prices for covid tests have abounded. A recent report from an insurance trade association noted that “price gouging by certain providers continues to be a widespread problem.”

But Warner’s PCR bill of $54,000 is nearly eight times the most notable charge previously reported, at $7,000 — and his insurer paid more than double that highest reported charge. Health policy experts KHN interviewed called Warner’s bill “astronomical” and “one of the most egregious” they’d seen.