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COVID-19 testing leaves patients with big bill at some New Orleans area hospitals and clinics

“When I received this bill for $931 for that, of course, I was shocked,” Meche said.

NEW ORLEANS — Federal law requires insurance companies to cover coronavirus tests at no cost to patients.

Some patients have learned free may only apply to community testing locations like the drive-up sites sponsored by local governments.

New Orleans criminal defense attorney Tim Meche is a coronavirus survivor.

He beat the disease but is still smarting from the bill he got for the COVID test he took at Touro Infirmary.

“When I received this bill for $931 for that, of course, I was shocked,” Meche said.

Shocked because COVID tests are supposed to be free to the patient under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act approved by Congress in March.

Taking a look at Meche’s bill, hospital operator LCMC Health charged him $142 for the test and another $913 for an emergency room visit.

While Blue Cross Blue Shield picked up some of the cost, Meche complains that’s not the point.

“I walked through that door that said 'Emergency Room,'” Meche said. “The hospital feels justified sending me this outrageous bill.”

WWL-TV asked LCMC Health about Meche’s bill.

Clinical and System Operations President Dr. John Heaton admits the bill is wrong.

He said in a statement, “The range stated for lab charges was erroneous…There is no facility fee associated with the test alone, nor is a facility fee charged at our community sites or testing tents such as operated at West Jefferson.  However, if the patient checks into the ER or receives the test in the course of other treatment there may be a facility fee.”

LCMC is now reaching out to Meche to adjust his bill.  

“Additionally, patients who have questions about bills are encouraged to call the LCMC Health Nurse Hotline, which is staffed seven days a week: 504-962-6262.,” Dr. Heaton said.

Thursday, Ochsner Health CEO Warner Thomas explained his hospital’s policy when it comes to COVID testing.

“The testing at all of our community centers is free,” Thomas said. “There’s no charge at any of the community centers. In our Urgent Care or if you get tested in the ER, we look to bill insurance.”

Again, COVID testing at any of the community drive-up sites is free, but people walking into an emergency room or an urgent care facility for a test could get hit with other charges.

It’s best to ask up front what you are expected to pay.

“I’m going to do that, and shame on me for not doing it in this case,” Meche said.

The Kaiser Family Foundation found a wide range of posted prices at large hospitals across the country from $20 to $850 for a single test.

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