Free COVID testing is not really free, says health cost advocate

By Paul Briand, posted Jun 5, 2020

PORTSMOUTH — When it comes the promise of free testing for COVID-19, free isn’t really free, according to Mark Galvin of MyMedicalShopper, an online health care price comparison tool.

Like other costs associated with the health care industry, he said, the cost of a procedure or a test or a drug or a vaccine is always ultimately paid by someone.

“There’s no out-of-pocket cost for the consumer, and they call that free; it’s not free,” said Galvin, president and CEO of MMS Analytics (, developer of, an online price comparison tool of health care costs.

“They charge your insurance plan, which is paid for by your employer and paid by you as a percent of the premiums that you might cover in your payroll deductions,” he added.

Like other medical-related services that are often billed as free, such as a flu shot, the consumer doesn’t feel the charge come directly out of their pocket at the time, but the cost is borne through the health care insurance premiums they pay, according to Galvin.

And the ultimate cost of COVID-19 testing varies widely, based on the findings of MMS Analytics.

After analyzing test costs from testing facilities, MMS Analytics said it found charged amounts range from $51 to $351, while allowed amounts (the insurance-negotiated discounted amounts actually paid) range from $39 to $157.

“The industry has taken steps to limit the financial burden of COVID-19 testing and treatment on consumers, which is obviously a benefit to all patients who need care during this health crisis,” Galvin said. “Still, the impact of coronavirus-related testing and treatment on future health insurance premiums is only now beginning to take shape. It is the total cost of this care – not just the patient responsibility portion of it – that will drive the cost of our health insurance down the road.”

Just because we’re in the grips of a pandemic that’s created an urgency in health care for vast numbers of people, the pricing of that care is really no different from the vast difference in pricing for other types of health care, according to Evan Young, head of data analytics for MMS Analytics.

“While it’s still early in the collection and analysis process, our early findings on COVID-19 DNA/RNA identification tests expose yet another example of significant variation in medical care prices,” Young said.

“Based on our preliminary analyses, it appears that the price differences for these COVID-19 tests are similar to the differences we observe across thousands of other types of routine medical care,” he added. “Providing patients with accurate and timely information about cost and quality, as has always been the case, remains an essential step towards mitigating our collective exposure to unnecessary insurance costs over the long term.”

This article and news video originally appeared on June 5, 2020 on the Seacoast Online: Free COVID Testing is Not Really Free, Says Health Cost Advocate


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