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62 Mass. Lawmakers Urge Governor To Ensure No-Cost Coronavirus Testing

 (Jose Luis Magana/AP)
(Jose Luis Magana/AP)

On Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an emergency move barring some insurers from charging fees, such as co-pays or deductibles, related to coronavirus testing.

"These measures will break down any barriers that could prevent New Yorkers from getting tested," Cuomo said in a statement. On Thursday, Washington's insurance commissioner made a similar move.

And in Massachusetts, 62 state legislators urged Gov. Charlie Baker to follow suit.

"Massachusetts must take every precaution necessary to slow the spread of coronavirus," Sen. Eric Lesser, who helped spearhead the letter to the governor, said in a statement. "We are in the midst of a public health emergency, and our Commonwealth cannot allow insurance bills or costly deductibles to get in the way of essential testing necessary to stop the spread of the virus."

The letter notes that stories "are already popping up across the country where patients being tested for COVID-19 were hit with large medical bills when they least expected it. As these unfair and unfortunate cases become more prevalent, we fear that individuals who should be tested will refrain from doing so due to a fear of exorbitant associated costs."

At a legislative hearing on Wednesday, Sen. Jo Comerford, co-chair of the joint Committee on Public Health, quoted health experts who urged that fees be waived for coronavirus tests and treatments. She asked Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel for her thoughts.

Bharel said there had not been time yet to look into the idea deeply but she was "certainly willing to look at any way in which we could be supportive of the residents of Massachusetts. Our goal is to make this to be as little of a burden as possible on our residents."

Lora Pellegrini, head of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, said insurance companies are aware of concerns related to the coronavirus.

"The health plans I represent are taking this matter every seriously. We’re in regular communication with the state. And we are assessing the best ways that we can support our members,” she said.

Coronavirus tests performed by the Department of Public Health, the only entity in Massachusetts currently able to administer them, are already free. Concerns in other states have centered on charges for medical care associated with the tests as well.

Gov. Charlie Baker, a former health insurance executive, is departing on a week-long family vacation in Utah but will get daily briefings, State House News Service reported.

Related:

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.

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