Fewer free COVID testing options for uninsured as BA.2 variant spreads in Washington – KIRO 7 News Seattle

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An important warning – some free COVID testing options are going away. Federal funding is sold out for some programs, which means the uninsured will have to pay out of pocket for PCR testing, depending on location.

The changes will not impact Washington state-supported public testing sites for at least two months, according to the WA Department of Health. However, some private testing locations no longer offer free testing for people without insurance.

The changes come as the state sees an increase in COVID cases caused by the new BA.2 variant. The variant is officially the dominant strain in Washington, accounting for 51.4% of tests performed by UW Medicine’s virology lab.

“The proportion of BA.2 is increasing, so we’re bracing for a slight increase in the number of cases,” said Pavitra Roychoudhury, Ph.D., who leads genomic sequencing in the UW Medicine Virology Lab.

The uptick is already being seen in King County, where COVID cases are up 42% from last week. Still, the county is only seeing about 250 cases a day compared to more than 6,500 daily cases during the omicron’s peak.

“We are very cautiously optimistic. We are so happy the numbers are down,” Roychoudhury said.

Improving the pandemic situation means funding battles in Congress. Money to cover the cost of COVID testing for people without insurance has already dried up.

Quest Diagnostics, which can be found at many Safeway pharmacies, says it advises customers and partners that a lab test for people without health insurance will cost around $125.

“The Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) has stopped accepting screening and treatment applications for uninsured patients due to a lack of sufficient funds. We have begun notifying our customers and partners that we no longer expect to be reimbursed for testing through this program unless additional funds are allocated,” a Quest spokesperson said in an email.

“It’s kind of upsetting,” said Alis Adams, a UW student. “Hopefully there’s some sort of grant that can cover testing, honestly.”

According to Seattle-King County Public Health, at this time the funding issue will not impact partner testing sites like UW Medicine testing sites. But that could change in the long run.

The Washington State Health Department says it has enough money to continue testing uninsured people for free until at least June.

But the city of Seattle says it knows some providers have started charging for testing on a sliding scale again.

What happens next is up to Congress — and a $15 billion package at stake.

“I think it’s concerning, but I think hopefully maybe Congress will be motivated in the right direction. There’s still hope for our government,” said John, a resident of Seattle.

The DOH says that if you’re insured and aren’t sure if your test will be free, check with the testing site first, so you’re not surprised with a bill.

You can still order free rapid tests from the state through the Say yes program.

So far, the changes do not affect people with health insurance, including Medicaid, Medicare or private insurance.

The City of Seattle provided this additional testing information:

• The city moved its four main COVID testing sites to UW Laboratories in the spring of 2021. These sites currently charge insurance for those who have it and cover costs for uninsured patients. However, these costs are currently being assessed.

• The city is working with its health care providers to assess the impact that the end of this funding will have on their communities. Some city providers have had to change and reapply their sliding scale policies.

• The city is in communication with our local health jurisdiction, state, and federal staff to discuss and advocate for funding to help uninsured patients get tested and vaccinated.

• For a list of free COVID-19 testing and vaccination resources, please see King County Resources at Testing and Vaccination Sites

• Also, for the uninsured, you can still get free home testing from the state through the Say Yes program or from the federal government

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