Insurance Regulator to Issue Warning on Virus-Test Billing

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s top insurance regulator is putting medical providers on notice that people cannot be charged for coronavirus testing after reports that residents have been required to pay for coronavirus rapid-result tests.

Insurance Superintendent Russell Toal said Wednesday that his office is preparing an administrative bulletin to ensure testing costs are not passed directly on to consumers, as state health officials push for robust testing to track infection rates and new strains of COVID-19.

Toal said the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance has received reports and complaints of people being charged in excess of $100 for testing services that should be free. The extent of the improper billing is unclear.

“We’ve got some providers out there that are charging individuals for so-called rapid tests,” Toal said. “The new guidance from the federal government makes it really clear that those federal tests are to be covered without a charge to the patient.”

The Biden administration in February issued guidance on 2020 emergency pandemic legislation that restricts cost-sharing with patients for coronavirus testing under a broad range of circumstances.

New Mexico officials this week described steep declines in new confirmed infections, hospitalizations and deaths because of the virus. Still, state Human Services Secretary David Scrase said they are monitoring variants and stressed the importance of testing as a way to keep tracking the virus.

The seven-day rolling average for tests administered is hovering around 11,800 — well above a benchmark of 5,000 per day set by the state for re-opening the economy.

New Mexico health officials say more vaccine doses are needed from suppliers if New Mexico wants to meet a new mandate for applying at least one shot to all teachers by the end of March.

Many New Mexico school districts have opted not to dramatically increase in-person learning despite approval from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Some have opened on a limited basis, allowing students to attend in-person based on the availability of teachers who volunteer.

Citing the limiting factor of vaccine supply, Lujan Grisham said in a statement that she was hopeful Biden’s directive on schools reopening was an indication that the federal government would be sending more support to the states to get schools opened safely on a faster timeline.

New Mexico is leading the nation when it comes to the percentage of vaccine doses used, having administered more than 94% of its doses. It’s the second-fastest state for administration with nearly one-quarter of residents partially vaccinated and nearly 13% fully vaccinated.

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