Hospital Charged Family Almost $40K for 12 COVID Tests so They Could Return to Work, School

A New York hospital reportedly charged one family nearly $40,000 for a dozen coronavirus tests that were required for them to return to work and school.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday afternoon that Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, which is owned by Northwell Health, has repeatedly charged patients thousands of dollars for virus tests that typically cost less than $200. The hospital has billed the tests—which insurance or the U.S. government is generally required to cover—as a "moderately complex" emergency room visit, tacking on additional charges.

One family that did their testing at Lenox Hill reportedly racked up $39,314 for just 12 tests. The virus testing was necessary for the family members to return to work and school. Several other patients' bills for one test reportedly hovered just below or above $3,000—which is roughly 30 times the cost of a typical test.

"It was shocking to see a number like that, when I've gotten tested before for about $135," Ana Roa, who received a bill of $3,358 for a test at Lenox Hill in February, told the Times.

COVID-19 test
A medical worker takes a nasal swab sample from a student to test for the coronavirus at a pop-up testing site in New York City on October 8, 2020. ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

Newsweek reached out to Northwell Health for comment but did not immediately receive a response.

The nonprofit health care network told the Times that its billing was appropriate. Representatives of the company told the newspaper that patients received more advanced care when they visited the hospital's emergency room, and that patients are notified via a sign about the additional charges.

"I don't think of the emergency room as a testing site," Barbara Osborn, Northwell's vice president for communications, told the Times. Rich Miller, Northwell's chief business officer, told the paper that Northwell provides "the same level of care" to everyone, regardless of whether the person has health insurance.

Last July, an analysis by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that coronavirus tests were being priced at anywhere from $20 to $850. That research found that the median price at the time was about $127. The foundation additionally assessed that about 50 percent of hospitals across the country priced tests between $100 and $200.

While high charges have provoked criticism and concern from patients, costs associated with coronavirus testing are covered by insurance or the federal government. Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which was passed by Congress in March 2020, private insurers are required to cover the cost of testing. A fund under the Department of Health and Human Services has been set up to cover testing costs for those who are not insured.

Patients should not be billed directly for co-pays or other costs associated with getting the nasal swab tests. But analysts have expressed concern that some hospitals or health care providers may be taking advantage of this system and charging higher prices since patients won't be required to pay.

A November report from the political advocacy group America's Health Insurance Plans said that "price gouging" for coronavirus tests continues across the country.

"The average cost of a COVID-19 test in the commercial market is $130. In contrast, out-of-network costs more than $185 for nearly half of diagnostic tests and a third of antibody and antigen tests," the report said. It noted that this was about a 10 percent increase, compared with just months before in the summer of 2020.