GOP Senators Want HHS to Ensure Health Insurance Covers COVID-19 Tests

November 2, 2020 Updated: November 2, 2020

A growing trend of health insurance programs declining to cover the costs of policyholders’ testing for the CCP virus—also known as the novel coronavirus—has a group of eight Republican senators seeking corrective action by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

“Unfortunately, it has come to our attention that changes made in a recent tri-agency guidance published on June 23, 2020, have created some confusion regarding coverage requirements for COVID-19 testing,” the senators said in a letter to Azar.

“In recent weeks, we have been made aware of increasing coverage denials from health plans for COVID-19 testing, particularly for asymptomatic individuals,” the senators told Azar in an Oct. 30 letter made public on Nov. 2.

The eight signers of the letter include Sens. Rick Scott of Florida, Joni Ernst of Iowa, David Perdue of Georgia, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Martha McSally of Arizona, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota.

Ernst, Perdue, and Tillis are all in hot reelection campaigns, while McSally is also facing voters Nov. 3 in a tight race as she seeks a full six-year term after being appointed to the post in December 2018 following the death of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

“For Americans who wish to safely return to school and work, access to testing is critical, and they should not have to question whether or not COVID-19 diagnostic or antibody testing is covered by their insurance,” the senators said in their letter.

“No one should have to pay for a test. If someone wants a test, they should be able to get a test, and that test should be covered by insurance without any out-of-pocket costs,” they said.

More than 100 million CCP virus tests have been performed since the disease sparked a national economic lockdown in March that continues today in varying degrees across the country. The widespread testing is a factor in the recent upward trend in confirmed CCP virus cases.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed into law by President Donald Trump earlier this year both require that insurance companies cover the entire cost of CCP virus testing for individuals.

Trump also signed an executive order requiring that the tests be covered by insurance programs.

The issue is significant for millions of Americans who are required by employers to present test results showing them to be negative before they are allowed to return to work.

But confusion about regulatory guidance issued by Azar’s department has created opportunities for insurance firms to decline coverage of the tests, sometimes because the procedure was performed by an out-of-network health care provider and other times due to situations in which an individual seeks a test but then doesn’t actually receive it.

There have also been cases of individuals being charged exorbitant fees for the procedure, including a California woman who got a bill for $1,840, and a Texas woman whose bill for the test was $6,000.

The eight Republican senators told Azar they want him to move quickly to revise the HHS guidance “to clarify that individuals who need a test can receive one without cost-sharing, medical management, or prior authorization, and regardless of whether the individual is symptomatic.”

The testing issue and the related controversy over the public health procedure known as “contact tracing” are also major issues blocking another CCP virus relief agreement between Trump and House Democrats led by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Negotiators appear to be near agreement on a measure that could cost between $1.8 trillion and $2.2 trillion. But Democrats want a new relief bill to include rigorous national testing and contact tracing that is used to identify people who may have been exposed to an individual who tests positive for the virus.

Republicans are reluctant to approve excessively intrusive measures for either the testing or tracing, while Democrats contend the procedures are essential to controlling the spread of the CCP virus.

Contact Mark Tapscott at Mark.Tapscott@epochtimes.nyc