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Covid tests: If insurance won’t pay, Aspen hospital won’t charge

Dr. Gail King takes blood from Marshall Crouch in Aspen on Friday, April 10, 2020.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

For any questions related to the covid-19 virus, call pitkin County’s covid infoline at 970-429-6186.

If health insurance companies refuse to cover the cost of COVID-19 tests for Pitkin County residents and visitors, Aspen Valley Hospital will not charge those patients for the test, the head of the hospital reiterated Monday.

AVH CEO Dave Ressler said Monday that bills for the $200 test are just now coming due from insurance companies that have decided not to cover virus testing. The hospital began testing for all residents and visitors with COVID-19 symptoms April 24, and health insurance companies usually take 60 to 90 days to process bills, he said.

“We don’t hold the patient responsible for the test,” Ressler said. “So there shouldn’t be any chatter around patients having to pay the bill.”

In the case of insurance companies that refuse to cover COVID-19 tests, the hospital will write off the cost, Ressler said. AVH hopes to at least break even on the testing cost by relying on patients with health insurance that will cover the cost.

For the past two months, Pitkin County public health officials have urged the public to practice good hygiene, wash hands frequently, wear facemasks in public and get tested immediately if they begin experiencing symptoms of the virus.

However, patients with virus symptoms cannot simply show up at AVH and demand a test. They must first consult their primary care physician, who will prescribe a test and refer the patient to the hospital. Visitors or residents with out-of-the-area physicians can have the doctor call AVH and prescribe a test, Ressler said.

Those without a primary care physician and with COVID-19 symptoms can call AVH at 970-279-4111 and make an appointment to see a doctor at the hospital. A prospective patient must establish contact with a doctor first before being referred for a test, said Alyssa Franklin, AVH director of primary care.

That AVH doctor visit will cost between $74 and $150, though the hospital’s billing department has a sliding scale depending on a person’s income as well as charity dollars to apply to the doctor visit, said Debby Essex, the hospital’s revenue cycle director.

“We just need them to reach out,” Essex said. “As long as they’re talking to us, we can solve (the billing issue).”

If the AVH doctor determines that a COVID-19 test is warranted, that patient will not be charged for the test, Ressler said.

Also, if public health officials determine that a person involved in a contact tracing investigation needs to be tested for COVID-19, that person also will not be charged, Ressler said. In that case, the test will be paid for by a grant the hospital has received that also covers COVID-19 testing at the jail and the homeless shelter, he said.

AVH remains in a “comfortable” status as far as testing goes, though the number of test administered per day is approaching the 16-per-day maximum that would require moving to a “cautious” phase if it is consistently met, Ressler said. The hospital is able to ramp up testing efforts to 32 per day if necessary, though that also would require moving to a “concerned” phase, he said.

So far, the maximum in one day has been 15, which happened once, Ressler said.

As of Monday, Pitkin County has had 94 confirmed cases and two deaths since March 8, according to the county’s community report. The weekly summary reports 16 new cases in the past week.

With reopening efforts increasing in recent weeks, the hospital is seeing more visitors requesting tests, he said. Public health officials are especially concerned about visitors from Florida, Texas and California, where positive case numbers are skyrocketing, according to comments at last week’s Pitkin County Board of Health meeting.

AVH has been offering COVID-19 testing Monday through Saturday, though hospital officials are hoping to begin offering the service seven days a week beginning this week, Ressler said. The respiratory center will be open Monday through Friday for testing, while weekend testing will be done through the emergency department, he said.

jauslander@aspentimes.com


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