A Texas man took COVID-19 tests at an emergency room. Then, he got a bill for $54,000.

·3 min read

A Dallas man was charged $54,000 for his COVID-19 tests at an emergency room in Lewisville, Texas – a staggering fee that is not only legal, but hardly the only coronavirus test to break the bank for a time-desperate person during the pandemic.

Travis Warner told NPR that his and his wife's June 2020 visit to the free-standing ER at Lewisville's SignatureCare Emergency Center was, at first, a relief because he could return to work once he tested negative. The couple drove 30 minutes outside of Dallas because of the limited testing availability at the time.

At the hospital visit, Warner individually received PCR diagnostic tests for COVID-19, plus the less-accurate rapid antigen tests due to time sensitivity in wanting to return to work.

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Relief turned into outrage when the bill came through the mail. The more-accurate PCR test and antigen test together cost $54,000 when including the ER facility fee. The taxes and additional cost added the bill up to a whopping $56,384.

Warner, who is self-employed and has his own health care plan with Molina Healthcare, negotiated the price with the hospital to eventually bump it all the way down to $16,915.20. The insurer paid that in full.

"At least I’m not liable for anything," Warner told Kaiser Health News.

But before the negotiation, the costs were murky. For in-network providers, insurers can negotiate prices for tests. But for out-of-network providers, insurers can be charged the price that is publicly available on the hospital's website. Since the free-standing ER in Lewisville was out of network for Warner, it initially looked like he was stuck with the bill.

SignatureCare Emergency Center is one of more than a dozen free-standing ERs the company owns across Texas. The facility is not the only hospital to charge an eye-popping fee that is legal to charge in American health care. An article in the Texas Tribune noted how a $175 COVID-19 test skyrocketed to $2,479. A report from the Insurance Trade Association claims that "price gouging by certain providers continues to be a widespread problem."

None, however, was high enough to eclipse the $50,000 mark from last summer. The website for SignatureCare Emergency Center currently lists COVID-19 tests at $175 apiece.

Health policy researchers, including Loren Adler, the director of the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy, told NPR the price for the test was "astronomical" and "egregious."

Molina Healthcare told NPR in a statement: "This matter was a provider billing error which Molina identified and corrected."

Warner said his wife received the same tests the same day at the same hospital and was billed only $2,000. She has a separate insurance policy.

Messages left Thursday by USA TODAY for SignatureCare Emergency Centers were not immediately returned.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Texas man charged $54,000 for COVID tests at hospital ER

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