Metro Health: Coronavirus test could cost up to $2,400 without insurance, but there are lower-cost options

Metro Health currently has one testing kit

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According to Metro Health, there aren’t many simple answers when it comes to the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19.

On Tuesday, Junda Woo, medical director for the San Antonio Metro Health District said there are complicated explanations for how many tests Bexar County currently has, how much it would cost the average citizen to be tested, and even who should be tested.

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Woo said while it’s been reported that Metro Health has 75 tests, that’s not entirely accurate.

“it’s not possible to give an exact number,” Woo said. “We’re just saying there is a limited number.”

That’s because Metro Health currently has one testing kit from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of people who can be tested with that kit depends on how many tests are run at the same time.

“Some tests are batched,” Woo said. " If I get 10 at once, I can run them all on one plate."

“Right now we have enough,” Woo said, but Metro Health has asked for more kits.

What will it cost a person to be tested?

That depends on where you go. Just like any doctor’s visit, the costs can vary depending on which provider you choose, whether your insurance covers that provider or whether you have insurance at all.

And it depends on whether your test goes to the Metro Health lab or a private lab. Metro Health’s services are free, but people need to go through a doctor to even be considered for testing.

Woo said she’s heard the test could cost about $2,400 out-of-pocket.

“That’s not atypical for a new test for a new virus or new bacterium,” Woo said.

Tuesday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Department of Insurance announced that they have asked health insurers and health maintenance organizations in Texas to waive costs associated with testing and telemedicine visits for the diagnosis of COVID-19.

But Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured residents of any state. What if you’re one of the five million Texans without health insurance?

Woo said low-income individuals and families should seek care at a federally-qualified health center including CommuniCare, CentroMed and University Health System clinics.

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It’s important to note that, as of Tuesday, there is no community spread of the disease in San Antonio. All of the cases here involve quarantined American citizens who were evacuated from Asia.

“Even if we had all the test kits in the world, it would make sense to test first for flu before testing for COVID-19,” Woo said.

Only people who meet the testing criteria will be screened for the virus. A doctor would make that determination and then contact Metro Health for a test.

Woo said it also doesn’t make sense to test everyone for COVID-19 right now because there is no specific treatment.

“A lot of people can stay home just like if you had the flu,” Woo said.

Most of the cases of COVID-19 have been minor and it’s just a matter of managing the symptoms which include fever and cough. It’s only the most severe cases that would need to go to the hospital. There, an infected person would be treated with oxygen and possibly offered an experimental anti-viral medication.

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Because the virus has been most serious for people over the age of 60, Woo said Metro Health has sent messages to local senior centers.

“Seniors need to be extra vigilant and take precautions,” Woo said.

Woo said Metro Health is joining the CDC in recommending that seniors think twice before going to mass gatherings.

As for everyone else? Metro Health is not recommending that any events be canceled.

“People who are thinking about it, should call us for guidance,” Woo said, though she admitted that the situation is changing day-by-day.

“In practical terms, it means that people who are planning large events should have a plan B,” Woo said.

The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District has opened a hotline for Bexar County residents with questions about the novel coronavirus.

Residents can call (210) 207-5779 during weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The COVID-19 hotline is available in English and Spanish.

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About the Author:

Julie Moreno has worked in local television news for more than 20 years. She came to KSAT as a news producer in 2000. After producing thousands of newscasts, she transitioned to the digital team in 2015. She writes on a wide variety of topics from breaking news to trending stories and manages KSAT’s daily digital content strategy.