Test coverage

Those wishing to receive a diagnostic COVID-19 test can do so regardless of insurance coverage, pending test availability. (Planet file photo)

Last month, a local couple was wrestling with a difficult decision. Though both people felt healthy and had been following all recommended guidelines for minimizing the risk of contracting COVID-19, the two would soon be traveling to attend a birth in the upcoming weeks. Of course, attending a birth in the time of the coronavirus is a complicated matter, with strict measures in place — even very restrictive ones in some places, such as barring all visitors from the birth including the other parent — to avoid exposing vulnerable infants and mothers to the virus.

The couple wanted to know with certainty that neither of them were asymptomatic. Neither of them, however, had health insurance, and paying for the tests out of pocket did not feel like a viable option.

In June, the Telluride Regional Medical Center announced it would be able to provide diagnostic swab tests for the virus to anyone seeking one, regardless of symptoms. While it’s a well-known fact that the high cost of health care services presents a challenging barrier to many uninsured or under-insured Americans, it’s perhaps lesser known that area residents in such a position have recourse to financial relief at the med center. According to the med center website, “since its inception in 2008, the Telluride Regional Medical Center Foundation has raised millions of dollars in gifts and grants,” which are used to offer a sliding scale of payment for qualifying patients. This is not only for services related to COVID-19; those who qualify are eligible for lowered bills for non-COVID-related care as well.

But when it comes to receiving a diagnostic swab test for the virus at the med center, those without insurance can put aside the potential stress caused by the price tag. The test, which costs a minimum of $275 — $125 for the test and lab work, and a $150 base cost for a mandatory follow-up to discuss results — will first be billed to the patient’s insurance. However, in the event that it’s not covered or that the patient does not have insurance, the med center’s fund will cover the costs. 

Availability of diagnostic COVID-19 tests for asymptomatic people may fluctuate, noted Dr. Christine Mahoney, acting med center primary care director. If the med center is experiencing a spike in positive cases, for example, and subsequently needs to test potentially hundreds of exposed individuals based on contact tracing, there may be a temporary delay in the ability to offer the tests to asymptomatic community members.

“We encourage people to take a look at our website, tellmed.org, where all the information about testing is available in both English and Spanish,” Mahoney said, noting that due to the current high volume of calls, checking the website first is helpful for med center staff.

Due to high levels of unemployment and financial distress caused by the pandemic’s months-long shuttering of the economy, medical bills are not the only source of financial pressure for many in the region. For those straining to meet other basic needs, the Telluride Foundation’s Good Neighbor Fund is also dispensing funds in the form of emergency grants. As the foundation’s website states, “The goal of the Good Neighbor Fund is to help individuals stay in the community and households stay intact during times of financial crisis” by “providing one-time hardship grants to assist with certain qualified needs, including housing, transportation or medical treatment.” 

To learn more or apply for an emergency response grant, visit Tri-County Health Network’s website at tchnetwork.org and click the application link under the “COVID support” tab.