California orders coronavirus tests won't have co-pays, deductibles

California joins Washington state and New York, who have implemented similar restrictions on regional insurance providers

California ordered Thursday all regional full-service commercial and private insurance plans to reduce the cost of coronavirus testing.

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The Department of Insurance and Department of Managed Health Care instructed all regional commercial and Medi-Cal plans -- California's Medicaid program --“immediately reduce cost-sharing — including, but not limited to, co-pays, deductibles or coinsurance — to zero for necessary medical screening and testing for COVID-19, including hospital, emergency department, urgent care and provide office visits where the purpose of the visit is to be screened and/or tested for COVID-19.”

The state also instructed patients to inform their health care providers and customer service agents of the change.

California follows the lead of Washington state and New York who've implemented similar restrictions on regional insurance providers.

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The White House issued a statement this week assuring all Americans that are covered by Medicare or Medicaid will have all costs covered associated with the testing and treatment of the coronavirus. Since Medi-Cal is California's name for the Federal Medicaid program, all of its patients will have all medical costs associated with the test and treatment of the virus covered. Private insurance plans will not.

Roughly, 9 percent of the U.S. population -- and 7 percent in California -- lacked health insurance in 2018, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, and many people covered under private insurance plans have hefty deductibles.

“If you have a $7,000 deductible and don’t have $7,000, you are essentially uninsured,” said Jennifer Tolbert, the foundation’s director of state health reform. “That’s a problem when you are trying to address a crisis like this.”

The Grand Princess cruise ship passes the Golden Gate Bridge as it arrives from Hawaii in San Francisco. (Scott Strazzante/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)

With California swinging into action to eliminate the burden of cost, it should encourage residents to seek testing if they suspect symptoms. California has 49 confirmed cases of the virus- sitting by Washington state which has 70 cases. The United States has 232 confirmed cases across 21 states.

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The state is also dealing with potential cases on a cruise ship returning from Hawaii to the San Fransico area. With over 3,500 passengers aboard, state officials on Thursday tossed testing kits abord the vessel from a military helicopter.

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a State of Emergency on Wednesday just before the state recorded its first death of the virus. That same day during a news conference he revealed that California would be getting $37 million from the $8.3 federal billion coronavirus bill that was signed by President Donald Trump on Friday. This week, the California state legislature made $20 million available to "allow the state government to respond to the spread of COVID-19."

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