When Debbie Krebs got the bill for a March emergency room visit, she immediately noticed something was missing: her coronavirus test.
Ms. Krebs, a lawyer who focuses on insurance issues, had gone to the Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, N.J., with lung pain and a cough. A doctor ran tests and scans to rule out other diseases before swabbing her nose. A week later, the medical laboratory called, telling her it was negative.
Ms. Krebs had a clear memory of the experience, particularly the doctor saying the coronavirus test would make her feel as if she had to sneeze. She wondered whether the doctor could have lied about performing the test, or if her swab could have gone missing. (But if so, why had the laboratory called her with results?)
The absence of the coronavirus test made a big price difference. Congress, Ms. Krebs had heard, barred insurers from charging patients for visits meant to diagnose coronavirus. Without the test, Ms. Krebs didn’t qualify for that protection and owed $1,980. She called the hospital to explain the situation but immediately ran into roadblocks.
“When I called the hospital, they said, ‘You did not get a coronavirus test,’” she said. “I told them I absolutely did.”
Across the country, Americans like Ms. Krebs are receiving surprise bills for care connected with coronavirus. Tests can cost between $199 and $6,408 at the same location. A coming wave of treatment bills could be hundreds of multiples higher, especially for those who receive intensive care or have symptoms that linger for months. Services that patients expect to be covered often aren’t.
This patchwork of medical billing is one reason we’re starting something new today: soliciting your medical bills. We’re asking you to send us copies of your bills for coronavirus testing and treatment, so we can understand what costs look like across the country. We want to know how patients are managing their medical bills in the midst of a pandemic. This is part of our larger effort to understand how the pandemic is reshaping American health care.