GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — At the end of March, Congress failed to pass a bill that would continue covering the cost of COVID-19 testing and vaccinations for uninsured patients. Now, local healthcare providers face a difficult choice, to either discontinue the coverage or pay for it from their own pockets.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said people will be able to access free tests from any testing sites sponsored by the department as well as local health departments. Vaccinations will also continue to be free, but the loss of funding means the availability of those services may severely decrease.
“That funding has been removed, which means people can get a charge anywhere up to $200 just to get a test done,” said Dr. Aaron Piramzadian, chief medical officer for StarMed.
He said StarMed, which has local offices in Onslow County, will be continuing to provide free COVID care to the uninsured and absorbing that cost. Piramzadian explained the bill would have continued the program from the Health Resources and Services Administration, which has been covering COVID care costs for the uninsured, but it was not passed.
“Republicans wanted to take the funding from the states themselves. The Democrats didn’t want the funding to come out of the states, they want the funding to come from somewhere else. So they’re having a disagreement of where this money is coming from. Everybody knows that we need the funding. They’re just trying to find where it should come from,” said Piramzadian.
He added this is a huge concern because not all healthcare providers have the capability to absorb this cost and that COVID is not over.
“I expect a lot of places to stop treatments, especially, and that’s going to be pretty bad because there is another wave coming in the next couple of weeks. It’s going to hit us pretty hard,” he said.
Officials with the NCDHHS said they are continuing to advocate for the federal funding saying in a statement, “If Congress does not pass additional funding for COVID-19, the ability of the country to be prepared and continue to respond to COVID-19 will suffer. Federal funding is important so the federal government can enter into contracts with test and vaccine manufacturers to produce supply for the future.”
Piramzadian said all of this means fewer care facilities will have enough funds to provide testing and vaccines, meaning plummeting availability and much longer lines.
He added, he hopes Congress can come to an agreement quickly because it’s unknown how long care providers will be able to absorb this cost.