The city is being hit by a new wave from COVID-19, but experts are unsure of its impact on health. Mayor Eric Adams was positive for the virus Sunday and is now working remotely according to City Hall.
Residents are also now facing another uncertainty: the rising cost of COVID-related healthcare.
A federal fund that reimbursed hospitals, pharmacies and other health care providers for COVID-related costs ran out last month. Congress did not refill it.
Many private health providers have started charging for this care since then. They are no longer able receive money from government to pay COVID-19 costs for people who are not insured. Testing at city-run sites remains free.
Reports are filling social media with people being shocked by charges or quotes for PCR tests, which were free for most of the pandemic.
Health experts and doctors are concerned about the rising cost of the omicron-subvariant BA.2 which is causing an increase in the number of infections in the city. They claim that making tests too expensive for people who are not insured or have low incomes will only increase existing health care disparities and reduce the likelihood of people seeking medical care.
It is not clear that Congress will have enough money to reinstate the reimbursement program, leaving Americans without insurance to continue to pay for private treatment and testing.
“It causes long-term damage whenever someone comes to get treatment and is surprised by a huge bill,” stated Dr. Stephanie Woolhandler at Hunter College. It’s damage to COVID, damage for the next pandemic, and damage when someone has an attack of the heart.
Here are the facts about COVID-related costs in New York City.
Can a health care provider charge for a COVID-19 vaccine?
No, according to Jennifer Tolbert, director of state health reform at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Any health care provider or government that agreed to distribute vaccinations has to adhere to federal rules that prohibit charging anyone, with any insurance background, for the shot.
The federal government has already covered the costs of buying the vaccines, as well as shipping them to states, cities and health care providers. The remaining costs associated with administering the vaccines can be billed to either government insurance or private insurance, Tolbert said.
“No entity can charge anyone for the cost of the vaccine, because it’s already been paid for,” Tolbert said.
Does New York City still offer free testing, vaccination and treatment for COVID-19?
PCR testing for COVID-19 is free at all city-run providers, including the NYC Health and Hospitals Network and Gotham Health clinics. For a list of locations and hours, including regular rapid test pick-up locations, click here.
If you test positive for COVID-19 and experience symptoms, you may be eligible for free treatment, provided and delivered by the city. (Mayor Adams is currently taking free antiviral pills provided by the city, according to his representatives.) The call line to sign up for the treatment is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week, at 212-COVID19.
The city government is planning to distribute 6.33 million at-home rapid tests during April at pick-up locations around the city and through 2,500 partner organizations, according to Adam Shrier, a spokesperson for the city’s Test and Trace initiative. These tests are separate from the city’s ongoing testing in schools, Shrier said, which administers PCR tests each week to at least 10% of students who have opted into the testing program.