Some providers are struggling to maintain coverage for uninsured COVID care

GREENVILLE, NC (WNCT) — In late March, Congress failed to pass a bill that would continue to cover the cost of COVID-19 testing and vaccinations for uninsured patients. Now, local healthcare providers face a stark choice: either discontinue coverage or pay for it out of pocket.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said people will be able to access free testing from all department-sponsored testing sites as well as local health departments. Vaccinations will also continue to be free, but the loss of funding means the availability of these services could drop sharply.

“That funding has been cut, which means people can get charged up to $200 just for getting tested,” said Dr. Aaron Piramzadian, StarMed’s chief medical officer.

He said StarMed, which has local offices in Onslow County, will continue to provide free COVID care to uninsured people and absorb that cost. Piramzadian explained that the bill would have continued the Health Resources and Services Administration program, which covered the costs of COVID care for the uninsured, but it did not pass.

“The Republicans wanted to take funding from the states themselves. The Democrats didn’t want the funding to come from the states, they want the funding to come from elsewhere. They are therefore not in agreement on the source of this money. Everyone knows we need funding. They are just trying to figure out where it should come from,” Piramzadian said.

He added that this is a huge concern as not all healthcare providers have the capacity to absorb this cost and COVID is not over.

“I expect a lot of places to stop treatments, in particular, and it’s going to be pretty bad because there’s another wave coming in the next two weeks. This is going to hit us pretty hard,” he said.

NCDHHS officials said they continue to advocate for federal funding, saying in a statement, “If Congress does not pass additional funding for COVID-19, the nation’s ability to prepare and continue to responding to COVID-19 will suffer.Federal funding is important so that the federal government can contract with test and vaccine manufacturers to produce the supply for the future.

Piramzadian said all of this means fewer healthcare facilities will have enough funds to provide tests and vaccines, which means plummeting availability and much longer queues.

He added that he hopes Congress can come to an agreement soon because it’s unclear how long healthcare providers will be able to absorb that cost.

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