The Santa Maria-Bonita School District is changing its COVID-19 testing program, and will have to start charging uninsured community members $55 per test, Interim Superintendent Matthew Beecher said this week.
“At the end of last week, we learned from our COVID testing providers that COVID relief funds would no longer be available to cover the cost of COVID testing,” Beecher said in a message to the school community.
“As a result of this change, our staff and families will need to submit evidence of some kind of health insurance to cover the cost of COVID testing. When insurance is not available, the cost for individual testing for staff, students, and community members without insurance will be $55 per test.
“For those people without insurance, they will be charged this fee starting Monday, March 28. We understand that this is a significant change from what we previously could have offered to our school community.”
A federal agency ended its uninsured program providing free COVID-19 testing and treatment bills for people without health insurance coverage on Wednesday, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Biden administration has requested another $22.5 billion for ongoing pandemic response, but the funding bill is at an impasse in the legislature, the Associated Press reported.
The program had been receiving about 1 million claims per day and paying $500 million weekly in claims, the AP reported.
Xavier Becerra, the federal secretary of Health and Human Services, said this week that the fund Congress established to reimburse doctors and other medical providers for COVID care stopped accepting new claims for testing or treatment services for uninsured people.
“The fund will also have to stop accepting new claims for vaccination services on or about April 5. This means doctors, nurses, pharmacists, labs, and other healthcare providers will no longer get payments through the fund for providing these pandemic services to Americans,” he said during a press briefing.
“On monoclonal antibody treatments, we have had to cancel a purchase for additional supplies of these treatments, which had been planned for this week. Our current supply of these therapeutics is projected to start to run out by late May.”
COVID-19 vaccines have been free since they were first distributed in late 2020.
Those policy and funding changes could have broad implications for the local availability and affordability of vaccines, testing and treatment.
Since the winter surge in novel coronavirus cases subsided, governmental and public health agencies have scaled back their response and resources for members of the public.
Most mask mandates have been lifted, contact tracing has ended, mobile vaccination clinics are being reduced, and some free testing sites are being closed in Santa Barbara County.
The county Public Health Department also plans to stop reporting so much local COVID-19-related data and start relying on state and federal data in the coming months.
Some state-run free COVID-19 testing sites in Santa Barbara County have already closed, and the rest will close by the end of June, according to the Public Health Department.
Those testing locations, including the Santa Maria Fairpark and the mini-bus at Direct Relief in Goleta, provide free testing for everyone, regardless of health insurance coverage.
Novel coronavirus PCR testing, which is conducted with a nasal swab and can take a few days for results, is available at various healthcare providers, and the county directs people to this state site to find locations: https://covid19.ca.gov/get-tested/.
“Additionally, please contact your primary care provider or your preferred Urgent Care Center to inquire about testing options available,” the Public Health Department says on its testing information page.
“Copays and fees may be charged at privately owned clinics and healthcare centers, including urgent cares and primary care providers. Your insurance may only cover COVID-19 tests if they are determined to be medically necessary. Please ask your provider for more details. Please call before going to your provider or an Urgent Care facility for a test,” Public Health officials suggest.
There are also pick-up locations for free at-home antigen tests, which have results available in 15 minutes.
The federal government also provides a few free at-home tests per household which you can order online here: https://www.covidtests.gov/. The simple online form only requires a name and address.
If you’ve already ordered and received a shipment of four tests (two boxes of two test kits) you can now order an additional set of four tests through the same website.
Click here for more information about testing from the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.
Countywide COVID-19 Numbers Show Small Number of New Cases
Santa Barbara County reported 22 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, and 146 total for the week ending Friday.
Hospitalizations of COVID-19-positive patients have stayed stable at about 20 for the past few weeks.
There were 140 “active cases” (people still considered infectious) countywide as of Friday.
No new COVID-19-related deaths have been reported since Tuesday.
Click here to read more stories from Noozhawk’s Coronavirus section.
— Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.