Why do some places charge for COVID-19 tests when Meck County offers them for free?

CHARLOTTE — During a news conference Wednesday, Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris said free COVID-19 tests are widely available in the community and people should not have to pay for them. She plugged the county’s website as a place people can go to find a free testing option.

“I want to re-emphasize the fact to our community that testing is readily available at no cost in our community,” Harris said. “We continue to see some pop-up opportunities in parking lots and other places where people can get a test, but they’re being charged. There’s really no reason for that. The federal government continues to provide support for no-cost testing and we’re making sure that that’s available in our community.”

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A reason why Harris is discouraging paying for tests is that the sites that offer them are sketchy. The county doesn’t have the capability to go to every place to offer a test.

“We have seen several instances where pop-ups have been opened, and there have been major concerns about whether they’re legit or not,” Harris said. “So that’s one of the concerns that we have, is whether the person on the street can walk up to one of those sites and really tell whether they’re actually going to be able to get an appropriate test and whether they’re actually going to be able to get test results.”

Not all places that charge an upfront fee for a test are sketchy, though.

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One credible place offering COVID-19 tests but has an upfront cost is Carolina Pharmacy. PCR tests are sent to Mako Medical Laboratories, and the health department is notified of all positive test results. The pharmacy charges $120 for a rapid test and $160 for the PCR.

Chi Patel, owner of Carolina Pharmacy, said the upfront cost is due to billing.

“We bill prescription insurance,” he said. “When we bill prescription insurance for a test, it is not covered. I can’t bill medical insurance.”

Patel said patients have options so they don’t have to pay out of pocket. He said FSA and HSA cards cover 100% of the cost. Patients can also seek reimbursement later through their insurance company.

“What we do is send you an email confirmation and in that email, you get an itemized receipt,” he said. “I haven’t had a single patient have a problem with it to get reimbursed. You just send it to your insurance company, and they will reimburse you for the cost of the test.”

Patel said some of his patients get tested routinely because of work. Carolina Pharmacy was swamped in November and December for COVID-19 test appointments. Unlike the county’s sites and some other providers, Carolina Pharmacy does not require rapid test recipients to be symptomatic. Appointments are easy to come by, and people are often referred to his pharmacy by other providers.

“The accessibility and not turning someone away who wants to be tested was the important thing for us to do,” he said.

For more information of Carolina Pharmacy’s vaccination process, click here.

Harris shared these questions to ask pop-up vaccination sites before paying upfront for a test:

  • Are the results being processed by a CLIA-certified laboratory?
  • How and when will they notify the patient about their results?
  • Do they report results to the state and local health departments?