It doesn’t take expertise in economics or epidemiology to understand that the COVID-19 experience differs widely depending on one’s tax bracket. According to a New York Times report published Monday, New York City’s richest residents are flocking to concierge testing services in order to avoid waiting on test results with the rest of the unwashed masses. Thanks to a little thing called “money,” this means the rich can get results within minutes.
The companies the Times cited require membership fees that render them out of reach for most: “between $150 and $600 a month,” or “annual individual membership fee of $5000,” one-time rapid tests for between $150 to $200 a pop, or even $1000-per-visit housecalls from doctors on retainer. One company happily reported that it had already “tested 12 billionaires.” Thank God! I hope they’re all OK!
Meanwhile, weirdly enough, testing isn’t progressing so neatly for people who can’t afford to pay a premium. Even though the tests are supposed to be free with insurance, people who can’t afford concierge rapid tests are also being charged thousands of dollars.
In April, Kaiser Health News spoke with a woman who was charged more than $2100 for a round of COVID-19 related testing, after she also tested positive for the flu. Consumer Reports highlighted the trend of people getting charged hundreds or thousands of dollars for testing visits. Another woman was unexpectedly charged $1,980 for her COVID-related doctor’s visit in March, because the fact that her visit involved the COVID test that would have negated her need to pay was conveniently left off the bill. Minnesota residents reported having to front $75 before getting tested as late as July.
Not only are non-rich people sometimes being charged exorbitant amounts for their tests, they’re getting their results slowly too: In July and early August, New Yorkers waiting for COVID-19 test results experienced weeks-long delays that rendered the act of testing effectively useless. The Times’ Monday report also indicated that widely-available COVID test result delivery recently slowed down in New York, going from two days to three.
Treatment also looks different for the not-so-wealthy. According to another New York Times report from Saturday, uninsured Americans are being hit with unexpected bills for COVID-19 testing and treatment, in spite of a nebulous Trump administration program designed to cover the expenses of those exact patients. One uninsured woman the Times spoke to said she’s been charged more than $70,000 for COVID-19 treatment she underwent in July.
As always, it’s inspiring to see exactly what our privatized healthcare system provides for the people who need it most, especially during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.
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