Illinois Coronavirus: Matteson man billed nearly $2K after being tested for COVID-19

MATTESON, Ill. (WLS) -- A Matteson man said he got tested for the coronavirus, and is now being asked to pay nearly $2,000 for it.

Now, on top of a scary health battle, Donald Utoh said he's now having to fight a financial one.

Utoh said in March he wasn't feeling well. He had a high fever and eventually lost his sense of taste.

"The temperature would go down and go back up, so I wanted to just make sure that I knew exactly what was happening," he said.

Utoh went to Franciscan Health in Olympia Fields and asked to be tested for COVID-19. He said he informed an employee that he was in between jobs and didn't have insurance, but was told that it wouldn't be a problem.

He was tested and it came back positive.

Fortunately, Utoh said he had a swift recovery. But a couple of weeks later, he received a hospital bill with a balance of $1,959.

"I was never, ever told that this was going to be the cost," he said.

He said he called the hospital several times and was told they would take note of his frustration.

Carmen Balber, executive director of the non-profit group Consumer Watchdog, said the recently enacted CARES Act, a $100 billion federal fund, is meant to help hospitals, health providers and the patients they serve.

"They should be covered," Balber said of the tests. "Even if you are uninsured, you should get your hospital bills paid for if you get coronavirus testing."

The problem is, she said, the bill doesn't include specific language on how hospitals should use that money, leaving uninsured patients across the country fighting medical bills.

"The last thing anyone should be worried about when deciding what's best to do for their own health, their families' health, is whether or not they can afford to get the testing for this virus," she said. "It's absolutely horrifying."

In a statement to the ABC7 I-Team, Franciscan Health said it had already given the patient a 77 percent uninsured discount, leaving him with that balance of $1,959.

The cost of the COVID-19 was only $119, but part of their protocol is to run a series of tests to ensure the patient gets the most accurate treatment.

Utoh said he was only swabbed twice: first to rule out the flu, then a second swab to test for COVID-19. No other tests were performed.

The hospital said in part, "The bill in question was immediately placed on hold pending review....In compliance with state and federal government mandates, we were already in the process of gathering and validating information from the patient and researching whether the patient qualifies under our charity care policy and/or any expanded Medicaid benefits, insurance coverage from a previous employer, or available government subsidies."

Utoh said he hopes the hospital will significantly cut his costs.

"The government has to check in. This needs to be checked," he said. "This cost will really discourage a lot of people, especially people in this area, of color."

Consumer protection groups said if you need to get tested for COVID-19 and it's not a dire situation, you may be better off calling your local clinic for low- or no-cost testing.

You can also call your local hospital to see if they offer free or affordable testing at a mobile site.

But if your symptoms are severe, go to the emergency room and try to dispute any possible bills later. Your health comes first.

FULL STATEMENT FROM FRANCISCAN HEALTH

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the inquiry you received from a former patient. Please see the following statement from Franciscan Health Olympia Fields.

Since the onset of COVID-19, billing processes have been adapting to changing, mandated protocols. For example, for safety reasons, the Emergency Room registration process which was previously done in person may now be done by phone and necessary information to process a claim for care may not be readily available. As a result, automatically generated billing statements, such as the bill in question, are subject to review and information verification by the patient after discharge.

Preliminarily, we can say that this patient's bill covered care beyond COVID-19. The cost of the COVID-19 test was only $119. Since the patient had no reported insurance, the patient automatically received a 77 percent uninsured discount, including the cost of the COVID-19 test, leaving a remaining balance of $1,959.

Since the date of care, the patient made an inquiry regarding his bill and the bill in question was immediately placed on hold pending review. In compliance with state and Federal government mandates, we were already in the process of gathering and validating information from the patient and researching whether the patient qualifies under our charity care policy and/or any expanded Medicaid benefits, insurance coverage from a previous employer, or available government subsidies.

For over 140 years, Franciscan Health has stayed true to our founding mission to care for everyone who comes through our doors and to advocate for those in need. Along healthcare providers across the nation, Franciscan Health is facing unprecedented challenges during this COVID-19 pandemic.

When a patient presents in a hospital Emergency Room the proper protocol is to use expanded differential diagnosis, which includes a battery of tests, to ensure the patient gets the most appropriate treatment plan. Responsible care activates all efforts required to ensure proper diagnosis since many conditions mirror COVID-like symptoms.
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