Limited coronavirus tests, cost uncertainty hamper N.C. effort

Posted 3/20/20

Private labs and universities are testing North Carolinians for the new coronavirus, according to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen.

Whether anyone tested will have …

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Limited coronavirus tests, cost uncertainty hamper N.C. effort

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Private labs and universities are testing North Carolinians for the new coronavirus, according to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen.

Whether anyone tested will have to pay out of pocket for the test is unclear.

Cohen said Friday she did not know the scope of the testing effort by those companies and institutions, but if a test comes back positive, they are required to report it to DHHS.

Cohen urged doctors to “use their clinical judgment” when deciding whom to test. State guidance of who ought to be tested include:

• People who have a fever or cough with shortness of breath and who have had contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 within the past 14 days.

• People with a fever, cough and shortness of breath and who have tested negative for the flu.

Criteria set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had been stricter earlier last week.

This does not mean that anyone who wants a test will be able to get one. Health officials are urging those who want a test to call their doctor or the hospital before showing up.

“Make sure you call ahead so folks can take the proper precautions,” Cohen said.

“We have largely been in a posture of containment. …It is still more common to test positive for the flu than COVID-19.”

One limiter on the number of tests that can be performed, Cohen said, is a shortage of laboratory supplies. On Thursday, she reported the state had enough supplies for 700 tests.

“Reagents continue to be an issue,” Cohen said. “We still have a supply chain issue. We are working very closely with the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the CDC to see if there’s another mechanism we can use that would circumvent the supply chain issue.”

Copays for tests?

Last Thursday, state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey asked insurance companies to waive copays for people who are tested for COVID-19.

“In order to protect the public, insurers … are requested to identify and remove barriers to testing and treatment for COVID-19,” Causey’s bulletin says.

However, the state isn’t requiring insurers to waive the copays, said the insurance commissioner’s spokeswoman, Marla Sink.

“We have no authority to make (insurance companies) waive fees,” Sink said late Friday.

About a week ago, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina told the insurance commissioner’s office that it planned to waive copays for the COVID-19 diagnostic test. After the notice was sent out, Sink said another company had responded, but she did not provide the company’s name.

On Sunday morning, DHHS reported 32 people in the state tested positive or were presumed positive for COVID-19. For updated numbers, check the Carolina Public Press daily updates on coronavirus in North Carolina.

Though none have yet died in the Tar Heel State, dozens across the country have, mostly in the Seattle area.

COVID-19 can cause severe illness and death, especially for people ages 65 and older. Those older than 80 or who have immune disorders, diabetes, or some lung or heart conditions are most at risk.

For additional medical information and links to resources from organizations across the state, see the Carolina Public Press Resource Guide to Coronavirus in North Carolina, which is being updated frequently.


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