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Pinellas County woman sent to collections over COVID-19 test she thought was free

Better Call Behnken

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Lena Ray says she was stunned when she went to the mailbox recently and saw two letters from a collection agency, claiming she owes hundreds of dollars for a COVID-19 test she thought was 100 percent covered by insurance.

The two bills were for $314.21 and $15.

“I felt a little threatened and bullied that, ‘Pay this bill or else,” Ray said.

Ray said she had her COVID-19 test on March 17, just as BayCare was opening drive-through testing sites, and just as the federal government was encouraging people with symptoms to get tested.

Federal legislation then offered financial protections, requiring insurance companies to cover COVID-19 testing and offering assistance for those without insurance.

Ray couldn’t figure out what went wrong. She said she called the collections company but representatives insisted she needed to pay the balance and when says she called BayCare she couldn’t get through to the right department to help.

Her insurance company, which had already paid more than $600 on the bill, was no help either, she said.

“Their position was we did our job but we stepped up, we paid what we were supposed to pay,” Ray said. “They didn’t really have any direction or advice for me.”

Not knowing what do do next, Ray turned to Better Call Behnken.

Lisa Razler, a spokeswoman for BayCare, spoke with Ray and Consumer Investigator Shannon Behnken and said BayCare’s billing staff would take look at the account.

Within hours, BayCare figured it out. Apparently, according to BayCare, the COVID-19 charge was covered at 100 percent.

Here’s what happened: At the time Ray had her test it was early in the pandemic and BayCare routinely conducted a respiratory panel before a COVID-19 test. That is the charge the insurance company didn’t cover.

BayCare no longer conducts this test before a COVID-19 test and decided to cancel the charge for Ray. A spokesperson for BayCare said Ray should have received bill notices via email.

Ray has since found those notices, but says she missed them the first time.

BayCare said in an email: “Because so many details were constantly changing during that period of time, we have updated Ms. Ray’s account with nothing due to BayCare. We also have notified the collection service, which will send a letter directly to the patient confirming that her account is clear.  We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience.”

BayCare also sent this information for patients considering a COVID-19 test.

“BayCare is collecting insurance information at its drive-thru testing sites and is filing with the individual’s insurance.  For individuals without insurance, they may fall into BayCare’s uncompensated program, otherwise, the self-pay cost is $85. For patients who have questions about their bill, we strongly encourage them to contact our customer service team as soon as possible.  BayCare is committed to making health care better and price transparency is part of that effort.  We provide the following tools to help guide our customers:

For more information and resources on treatment visit BayCare’s website.

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