5 On Your Side

$285 for a COVID-19 test? Not all of them are free, 5 On Your Side finds

Posted September 14, 2021 2:57 p.m. EDT
Updated September 15, 2021 10:56 a.m. EDT

— COVID-19 tests are free, so why are some people being charged hundreds of dollars per test?

5 On Your Side’s Monica Laliberte explains it depends on where you get tested.

With the Delta variant spreading and cases rising, demand is back up for COVID-19 tests.

While many testing sites are free, others are not. Wilson’s Susan Smith said she was told she could have to pay $285 for a COVID-19 test.

"I went to a FastMed and after I sat there an hour and gave them my insurance card, they told me that my out of pocket expense would be $120, if I didn’t have insurance, it would have been $285," said Smith.

She was shocked.

"They told me that they were a private facility and that they could charge anything they wanted," said Smith.

North Carolina lists no-cost sites on the state Department of Health and Human Services website. On that page, you’ll also find other testing sites which note "There may be a fee."

Providers, including FastMed, list their prices online. So does UNC Health System, which adds, "The out-of-pocket cost for testing varies."

Online, Duke Health says it established a standard price of $39 for a COVID-19 test for uninsured patients.

If you have a question about a bill, contact the NC Department of Insurance. A spokeswoman tells us they’ve settled disputes with patients who were charged. Several involved "out-of-network" issues.

So where can you go for a free test?

Any site run by your local health department, but the state says also CVS and select Walgreens, Walmart and Harris Teeter locations.

Another no-cost option through the state is to request an at-home test kit through the NCDHHS website.

As part of a pilot program, 35,000 tests were available by mail to help residents who may have trouble getting to a testing site.

The agency plans to make additional kits available, as needed.

The bottom line? Check online before you get a test so that you don’t end up with an unexpected bill.

"They need to let people know that before they actually get there," said Smith, who booked an appointment for her test but ultimately got tested at a different location for free.

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