Don’t assume COVID-19 testing is free, BetterMed explains why it’s charging

Updated: Apr. 14, 2020 at 6:41 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Several viewers called have NBC12 upset with Chesterfield-based BetterMed over the cost of its COVID-19 testing. The viewers claim they were led to believe testing was free or low cost and not $300.

BetterMed blames the federal government in part for making statements that testing would be free but failing to roll out a plan for people who need financial help the most to get tested. It’s confusion in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic and that crushes expectations.

Gus Stanley says he showed up at the Chester curbside testing site.

“I want them to know they scammed us. They should let people know. Hey, if you’re coming to get this test, it is not free,” Stanley said.

Confusion creates disappointment for BetterMed Urgent Care staff risking their health and life administering the curbside exam and testing.

"There’s no playbook for this and we’re all just trying to do our best to do what’s right for patients and the community,” BetterMed founder Dr. Mark Rausch said.

Confusion also dashes the hopes of the anxious people seeking assurance that they are not infected. Kendra Fields has sarcoidosis and is high risk.

“The testing should be free. There should be no co-pays, no deductibles, nothing. It should be entirely free. I just couldn’t believe it. They wanted to charge us. So, I decided not to get tested,” Fields said.

She has Medicare and would be responsible for 20 percent of the cost.

On Your Side Investigator, Diane Walker took all their questions and concerns to BetterMed and Dr. Rausch was more than willing to talk. Walker asked Rausch to explain what people are getting charged $300 for.

“If you went into a normal urgent care setting, you can’t just walk in and tell the provider ‘I want a flu swab.’ There’s an evaluation that has to happen,” Rausch said.

So, there can be no COVID-19 test without an evaluation to check your vital signs and for symptoms of severe disease. There are liabilities involved, Dr. Rausch said.

“Look across the country, the urgent cares are doing exactly what we are going. They are performing the evaluation then sending off the testing to the lab,” Rausch said.

The evaluation is $149, then a second $149 for lab work.

“If they don’t pay that extra $150, they won’t find out the results?” Walker asked.

“I disagree with that statement, Diane. We are working with a laboratory partner that’s located in the Richmond area. They’ve been a wonderful group to work with. We have not had any instances where results were withheld because they have not made payment to the lab,” Dr. Rausch said.

Stanley got his results - which were negative - although his lab bill was unpaid. He says he used a credit card for the exam and isn’t sure how to pay the rest. The couple is uninsured.

“All we’ve been hearing is that this test is going to be free or practically free to everyone. Poor, rich, you name it. That’s what we thought,” Stanley said.

“It’s awful in this time of crisis for people that they want to charge people. People are out of work, not making ends meet as it is,” Fields said.

Better Med did take action immediately following our phone conversation to make the messaging clearer on its website. Most insurance is accepted. Medicaid is not. The uninsured or those out of network who are unwilling or unable to pay at the time of the evaluation are referred to the health department.

“We do not receive any public funding. With the federal government saying that the test is free, they’ve made that statement without any sort of infrastructure in place,” Dr. Rausch said.

Dr. Rausch said they’re devoted to the welfare of others.

“People need to be tested. There’s a lack of testing in the area. We can’t ask our staff to work for free and they’re taking significant risks. Health care providers are dying and our staff has stepped up. They come to work every day asking how we can test more people," he said.

From what Diane Walker has been able to find out, there is no free testing in our area. A couple of weeks ago, the health department did have free testing at Henrico’s Dorey Park and Chesterfield Fairgrounds. You had to pre-register but right now, there’s no free testing.

In the meantime, BetterMed is challenging other urgent care facilities to provide testing to stop the virus from spreading.

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