Photo: Laurie Delgatto-Whitten
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When Spring resident Laurie Delgatto-Whitten began to experience shortness of breath and chest pain, she decided it was time to get a drive-thru COVID-19 test. What she thought would be a quick, no-fuss $150 test turned into a staggering $3,165 insurance bill.
“I’m floored,” Delgatto-Whitten said. “I felt like this was a scam. I called the insurance and called my healthcare provider. If you don’t have insurance, it’s $150 in cash. If you do have insurance, that all gets done online when you book an appointment.”
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Delgatto-Whitten said she had visited the United Memorial Medical Center testing site on the 20000 block of Kuykendahl Road. When she drove up, she said a nurse came out and swabbed her nose, summing up the testing experience.
Two months later, Delgatt0-Whitten discovered she was billed $3,165 for the 3-minute COVID-19 test.
When she broke down the charges, it included $2,113 for an emergency visit and $602 for a physician’s diagnosis, Delgatto-Whitten said. In addition to those charges, there were $450 in lab fees for approximately seven tests that she says were done without her permission.
“This is a racket,” Delgatto-Whitten said. “It was deceitful. The more I’ve learned about this it’s just illegal. They’re ripping people off. How many people out there are like me?”
Dr. Joseph Varon, chief medical officer at UMMC, said he was trying to track down the issue with Delgatto-Whitten’s bill.
“I’m looking into this matter,” Varon said. “We haven’t done anything wrong. We’ll fix whatever happened with this patient’s bill.”
Varon added that he’s dedicated to finding out what happened on the billing end and whether this is a rare issue with patient charges.
“I’ll put an end to it if there’s any error and make sure it was not replicated anywhere else,” Varon said.
UMMC has completed more than 140,000 COVID-19 tests thus far in the pandemic, according to Varon.
United Healthcare issued a statement saying it was taking a deeper look into Delgatto-Whitten’s bill as well as others’.
“In addition to looking at this center’s billing practices, we are conducting a broader review of egregious and inappropriate provider billing, particularly as it relates to free-standing clinics and coding for COVID-19 testing and treatment,” it said in the statement.
Delgatto-Whitten didn’t have to pay any part of the bill, but she said she’s worried her premium will increase as a result.
“I just think it’s absolutely shameful that this is happening,” Delgatto-Whitten said. “It felt like price-gouging. I’m concerned that a company is committing insurance-fraud. Peoples’ premiums are already so high. Does this have the potential of affecting people because premiums go up?”