Washington, California, and New York are forcing health insurers to cut patients’ costs for coronavirus testing

A vehicle maintenance utility service worker wipes down an off-duty bus with a disinfectant during a routine cleaning at the King County Metro Atlantic and Central Base in Seattle, Washington, U.S. March 2, 2020. Reuters

States are starting to require health insurers to waive costs to members who require testing for the novel coronavirus.

On Thursday, Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler issued an emergency order that requires insurers in the state to waive copays and other costs associated with getting tested for the novel coronavirus, effective immediately. California’s Department of Insurance directed insurers in its state to waive costs like copays associated with testing.

The order follows New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement Monday night that he plans to require health insurers to lower patients’ costs associated with testing for the novel coronavirus.

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FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2019 file photo, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a bill signing ceremony in New York. Cuomo says his state will file a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration's plan to block New Yorkers from enrolling in
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Associated Press

Some insurers have also accounted for covering the cost of the novel coronavirus test. Health insurer Cigna on Thursday said it would waive costs associated with testing for members in its plans.

On Friday, Aetna made a similar pledge to waive copays for the test. Aetna added that its members will have access to $US0 co-pay virtual visits through the CVS MinuteClinic app and through Teladoc.

The moves come as the novel coronavirus spreads in the US and amid concerns that getting tested for the virus may be unaffordable to many.

Cuomo said insurers in New York won’t be allowed to impose cost-sharing like copays on patients who see a doctor or go to the hospital for coronavirus testing.

“Containing this virus depends on us having the facts about who has it – and these measures will break down any barriers that could prevent New Yorkers from getting tested,” Cuomo said in a news release Monday.

In addition, New Yorkers who are covered via Medicaid won’t be expected to pay a co-pay for coronavirus testing, Cuomo said.

An American and his daughter who were quarantined for two weeks in California face more than $US2,600 in medical bills. And while the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention is not billing for testing for the COVID-19 virus, a stay at the hospital for suspected cases of coronavirus could set Americans back thousands.

New York said Monday that all tests run out of the state’s Wadsworth Lab are being fully covered as well.

Read more:
Coronavirus testing is free, but the hospital trip may set you back thousands. One graphic breaks down potential costs.

The state directives don’t necessarily pertain to people who get their health insurance through their jobs, because health plans offered by self-insured employers aren’t regulated by the state.

More than half of the non-elderly population is covered by an employer-sponsored plan, and almost 80% of large companies are self-insured. Aetna noted that self-insured plans will be able to opt out of the programs at their discretion. Cigna’s self-insured employers have the option to cover coronavirus testing.

As of Thursday, the US had reported more than 232 cases of coronavirus and 12 deaths.

This article was initially published on March 2 and has been updated.