Local leaders call for health insurers to cover cost of COVID-19 testing

Erie County

ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. (WIVB)–Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz says he and Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein expressed their disbelief to the CEO’s of BlueCross BlueShield, Univera Healthcare, and Independent Health for not covering the cost of COVID-19 for their members.

Poloncarz says county officials are calling on each to rescind the decision and make coronavirus testing available to all.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown took a similar approach in sending a letter to health insurers. Brown is also demanding testing to be covered with no exceptions.

“Testing is one of the few weapons we have in this fight against the global health pandemic,” Brown tweeted.

In his letter, Brown says in part, “I disagree with the reasons you have provided to the media for the decision to no longer cover these tests. Comparing widespread testing in a global pandemic, that is now the third-highest cause of death in the United States, to required drug screening for employment conditions to a contagious virus is unreasonable and suggests a disregard for the people who need COVID-19 tests to safely go about their daily lives.”

The letter written and sent to CEO’s by Erie County leaders echos the sentiments of the mayor’s letter.

Poloncarz and Dr. Burstein say the policy change will have extremely negative effects on the community, especially low-income individuals and families who may not have the means otherwise to pay for testing.

“We urge you to reverse this decision,” Erie County leaders wrote. “We must all pull together in the face of this global health crisis. COVID-19 does not care who it infects, what their socio-economic status is, where they work, or to whom they are related.”

A spokesperson from Independent Health had this to say regarding their testing coverage:

“Our COVID testing coverage has not changed.  The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) required health plans to provide coverage without any cost sharing, prior authorization or medical management requirements for diagnosing COVID-19. Independent Health therefore continues to cover COVID testing with no member cost share for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes.  Recent federal guidance confirmed this coverage requirement does not apply to ‘back to work’ testing. Based on this guidance, such testing is not required to be covered under the commercial health insurance and our policy, which is consistent with other plans throughout New York State, follows this guidance.”

We’ve reached out to BlueCross BlueShield and Univera. We’re waiting to hear back.

You can read both the county’s and the city’s letter to health insurers below:

Troy Licastro is a digital content producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2018. See more of his work here.

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