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Local leaders push for insurance providers to cover all COVID-19 tests

Tests are free for everyone at a NYS run site
Posted at 6:38 PM, Aug 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-25 18:40:15-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Local leaders are pushing for insurance providers to cover all COVID-19 tests, including tests where someone is asymptomatic, or needs a test before going back to school and work.

On Monday, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein sent a letter to the CEOs of BlueCross BlueShield, Univera Healthcare, and Independent Health. They're urging the providers to reverse course and cover all Coronavirus tests, to help control asymptomatic spreading.

“This policy change will have extremely negative effects on our greater community, especially lower income individuals and families who may not have the means to pay for testing and may be dissuaded from having a needed test performed,” read a portion of the letter.

On June 23rd, the Trump administration released guidance to insurers saying they don't need to cover "public health surveillance. Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins (NY-26) said that is a loophole to Congress' initial legislation that will hurt Western New Yorkers.

“Why they would do this I have no idea, but that is not the language that was in the legislation that gave full responsibility to the insurance industry as it relates to testing," he said.

All three insurers said they cover the costs of tests when it's recommended by a doctor. Independent Health and Univera added they are following federal guidelines.

“Independent Health continues to cover COVID-19 testing with no cost-sharing when a healthcare provider decides that testing is medically appropriate for the purpose of diagnosing or treating our members.

“Based on federal guidance [cms.gov], health plans are not required to cover COVID-19 testing when it is to screen for “return to work/school” purposes or for public health surveillance. Our policy follows this federal guidance and is consistent with other health plans throughout New York State and across the country.”
Spokesman, Independent Health
“At BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York, we have and will continue to cover all medically necessary testing and treatment for our members. That has been the case since the pandemic exploded here in March. We still cover all testing recommended by a doctor, or health care provider, because of direct exposure, travel exposure, or symptoms.”
Thomas Schenk, EVP BlueCross BlueShield

Univera said its policy has been in place since late June, following clearer federal mandates. It covers diagnostic and antibody testing prescribed by a doctor.

"Testing that is ordered or performed solely for purposes of pandemic control or re-opening the economy, and not based on a determination by an attending provider that the test is medically appropriate for the diagnosis and treatment of an individual member, is not covered. This includes tests performed on an asymptomatic individual solely to assess health status as required by parties such as a government/public health agency, employer, school, or camp."
Peter Kates, Vice President Communications Univera Healthcare

Anybody is eligible for a free test at a New York State run site, this includes the drive-thru site outside of KeyBank Center. You do not need to be exhibiting any symptoms.

Appointments can be made thru the state's Coronavirus hotline: 888-364-3065. Click here for New York State testing locations and information.