Health

COVID Testing Is Supposed to Be Free for New Yorkers. Not Here

New York City has partnered with the boutique service One Medical and people who don't have health insurance can be hit with lab fees.
April 23, 2020, 8:00pm
covid19 testing one medical
A One Medical Group Inc. nurse practitioner swabs a patient at a COVID-19 testing center at Medgar Evers Collage in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., on Monday, April 20, 2020. Photo: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

New Yorkers who have signed up for COVID-19 related text messages are used to seeing texts about staying safe and accessing city resources, like reminders to wear face coverings, info on where to get free meals, and how to file for unemployment.

But today, the automated system directed subscribers to call One Medical, a private Silicon Valley primary care doctor startup, if they needed to get tested for COVID-19. The text message read: "Notify NYC: NYC is opening testing sites citywide, prioritizing those most at risk. Call 1-888-ONEMED1 or go to onemedical.com & use code NYCCARE30."

notify NYC one medical

Susan Rinkunas

One Medical, which is backed by more than $500 million in venture capital including from Google parent company Alphabet, is a concierge medical service that charges $199 for an annual membership. The company's premise is that the fee allows them to provide, among other things, same-day appointments with little waiting. Though, the company notes in an April 10 blog post, that it is providing complimentary 30-day memberships for essential workers.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city's partnership with One Medical on Friday alongside news that the city was opening a walk-in testing site in each of the five boroughs at NYC Health + Hospitals locations. (One Medical's COVID-19 tests, by contrast, are offered by appointment only.) But those city-run clinics were not mentioned in the text message sent today, nor were the free testing sites at or near public housing complexes that will open later this week.

New York state's COVID-19 testing page says that testing is free to eligible residents: "Testing is free to all eligible New Yorkers as ordered by a health care provider or by calling the NYS COVID-19 hotline at 1-888-364-3065." A worker at the hotline confirmed to VICE that testing is free at city-run clinics and drive-through testing sites, with or without insurance.

Yet I called One Medical's 888 number on Thursday and was told that third-party lab fees for the COVID-19 test are $51 without insurance. I asked if that was the price with the NYCCARE30 discount code and was told no, that the code is for the free 30-day membership. The worker also told me that, on May 1, testing fees for COVID-19 will increase from $51.31 to $100, citing increased demand, which requires testing equipment and reagents for its lab partners, which include LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics.

The city's 4/17 announcement notes that New York is seeing clear disparities in COVID-19 cases including among lower-income people. “Communities of color have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis,” de Blasio said. “We know that widespread testing is a key part of containing the spread of COVID-19, which is why we are doing everything we can to bring more testing to our most vulnerable.”

VICE asked the mayor's office if the city or state would cover the cost of tests at One Medical for essential workers who don't have health insurance and how it chose to partner with One Medical over other providers. As of press time, it has not responded.

A One Medical spokesperson provided the following statement: "We are dedicated to delivering COVID-19 testing services to all New York City residents in need. In partnership with the Mayor's Office, One Medical continues to offer free 30-day access to our on-demand virtual care services and will not charge any fees directly to patients for COVID-related care, including specimen collections administered at any of our five borough test sites."

Update 4/23/2020: This story has been updated to include comment from One Medical.

Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.