The world is on the verge of a coronavirus pandemic — but Americans must still pay exorbitant sums to learn if they have the virus. As the Miami Herald reported last month, South Floridian Osmel Martinez Azcue returned from a work trip to China in January, developed flu-like symptoms, and decided to get tested for COVID-19. The results were negative, but the test came with a $3,270 bill.
Now that three coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Florida — and news that a New York City man recently flew to Miami while infected — Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava has asked Gov. Ron DeSantis to do everything in his power to make tests free or affordable to the public. In a two-page letter yesterday, Levine Cava asked DeSantis to mobilize the Office of Insurance Regulation to waive patients' fees for coronavirus tests in Florida.
"We know that the best way to minimize the impact of the Coronavirus in our communities is to know who has it and for them to take appropriate medical care," wrote Levine Cava, who is running for Miami-Dade mayor. "To that end, I believe that no Floridian should be denied the ability to be tested for Coronavirus because of barriers with their insurance plan, or due to lack of insurance coverage."
DeSantis' office has so far not issued a response in the governor's name. A spokesperson yesterday forwarded a message from New Times to the Florida Department of Health. That agency, however, does not oversee the Office of Insurance Regulation. DeSantis' office did not respond to subsequent messages.
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Azcue's story has become a national rallying cry for those who want to reform America's exorbitantly expensive healthcare system. Azcue told the Herald he returned to Miami from China and decided it was in both his and the public's best interest to find out if his symptoms were caused by the novel coronavirus. Thankfully, the test showed he had only the flu. But Jackson Memorial issued a bill for $3,270. His insurer, National General Insurance, covered all but $1,400 of the amount but demanded Azcue provide three years of medical records to prove he didn't get sick due to a preexisting condition.
Those pushing for a Medicare-for-all system, in which citizens pay into a national healthcare program, say this story perfectly illustrates the need for an overhaul of U.S. health insurance. Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders even tweeted about Azcue last week:
The coronavirus reminds us that we are all in this together. We cannot allow Americans to skip doctor's visits over outrageous bills.— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) February 28, 2020
Everyone should get the medical care they need without opening their wallet—as a matter of justice and public health. https://t.co/c4WQMDESHU
DeSantis, however, has not yet said whether he believes Florida should force hospitals and insurance companies to offer free coronavirus tests. In the meantime, wash your hands.