LOMPOC, Calif. - Charlie Vasquez took his two daughters to Lompoc Valley Medical Center to be tested for the coronavirus on April 2, 2020. The test came back negative for one daughter. Doctors had to re-test the second daughter and that test came back positive. Vasquez told NewsChannel she has since fully recovered and is doing well.
Weeks later, Vasquez received a bill from Lompoc Valley Medical Center for that COVID testing. Total charges added up to $1,494, but insurance paid for most of it. The Explanation of Benefits he received from his insurance company, Anthem Blue Cross in California, showed he was responsible for the out-of-pocket expenses which included $350 for his deductible and $171.60 for coinsurance. Vasquez's portion added up to $521.60.
"The only word that comes to me was shock because all I've heard on the news is that it was free testing and you get a bill for $1,495 was quite eye opening," said Vasquez.
Vasquez, a retired Lompoc Prison employee, told NewsChannel he can't pay a bill that big right now.
Many Americans are under the belief they don't have to pay for the coronavirus test. One of the first actions Congress took when the pandemic hit was to pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. It was supposed to protect Americans from being billed for COVID testing.
Vasquez took his frustration to the Lompoc Forum and posted online about the bill. He said he received a lot of support from the community.
Steve Popkin, CEO at Lompoc Valley Medical Center, heard about the post and called Vasquez personally.
“He was very apologetic. He had read my post, it was on the Lompoc Forum actually and it gets a lot of people to read that, to see what’s going on in town. He said they didn’t have the pricing quite right on how to do this testing and so he apologized and said they would remove all the charges from my account,” said Vasquez.
NewsChannel contacted Popkin to find out if he wiped out Vasquez's bill out of goodwill or did the hospital send out the bill in error. "I can't discuss specific patient information. But, the actual COVID-19 test is relatively inexpensive. However, there is a more expensive test that determines if the patient has one of 18 other viruses. Although physicians sometimes order this test as part of the COVID-19 clinical equation, it is unclear what the healthplans' position is regarding the out-of-pocket costs for this test," said Popkin.
We also asked Popkin about the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and whether it protects Americans from being billed in cases like this. "For COVID-19 testing, Medicare and most healthplans have indicated that the patient will not be financially responsible for out-of-pocket-costs, like copayments. However, the detail of how that is to be implemented is ill-defined. The common understanding is that billing from the testing facility is done as usual, and then the healthplan will adjudicate the claim on its side, eliminating the patient's out-of-pocket costs," said Popkin.
NewsChannel contacted Santa Barbara County Health officials who agree there is some ambiguity in the law.
Popkin added advice for anyone who receives a similar bill from his hospital, "The issue of out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 related testing is mostly a matter between the testing facility and the healthplans. So, if anyone has a question or concern regarding their out-of-pockets costs for a test obtained at Lompoc Valley Medical Center or Lompoc Health Clinics, I encourage them to contact Lompoc Valley Medical Center Administration Office, and we will do our best to resolve the matter," said Popkin.
As for Charlie Vasquez, he's happy his bill has a zero balance and hopes this pandemic ends soon so no one else has to worry about being billed for anything related to COVID-19.