Locals seeking Covid-19 tests still face difficulty scheduling appointments, unexpected charges

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to manage Covid-19 over this winter includes improved testing resources. While testing has increased in Ulster County, many locals are reporting problems getting tested. They say they have received bills, even though all testing is supposed to be covered by their insurance or picked up by the state, funded by the CARES Act.

‘The system is flawed’

Meghan Carney of Saugerties described her experience getting a Covid test as “extremely difficult.”She and her sister were looking to get tested a week after Thanksgiving and first turned to Caremount, where they struggled to schedule an appointment. Eventually, her sister traveled to Albany Medical Center, where she was able to get a rapid test. She tested positive.

“If she had never gone to Albany Medical Center, many others could have been exposed as she was asymptomatic,” said Carney. 

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Carney herself was able to get tested at Caremount after some time, but described the whole experience of getting tested as being difficult.

“The system is flawed,” said Carney. “My sister who tested positive was never contacted by contact tracers, and she’s been positive for a week.”

Other residents, like Salina Merrihew, also report frustration with getting tested. After trying to schedule an appointment at a number of different testing facilities, she couldn’t find anything. She decided to go to the urgent-care facility at the Hudson Valley Mall, where she waited for three hours before getting a test.

“Governor Cuomo and County Executive Ryan push for testing and how great it is to get tested,” said Merrihew. “There is no way that the current numbers are accurate when there isn’t even enough testing to meet demands.”

Others had a more positive experience at the Hudson Valley Mall testing facility. “After returning from traveling and quarantining, it was very easy to get tested without symptoms,” said Lindsay Brock. “I walked into the HealthQuest at the old Hudson Valley Mall, and was in and out in a half-hour and paid my normal co-pay.”

Similarly, Cheyenne Reinhardt of Highland, said that FirstCare was able to get her the testing that she needed in a timely and appropriate manner. However, before that, she struggled finding testing sites in Ulster County that had availability.

“That was super-frustrating,” said Reinhardt. “We need to make testing more accessible to everyone. It was very discouraging to try and search so hard for a place where I could get tested when I felt sick.”

Chelsea Marino had to get tested for work, which was mandated for all staff. She started with CVS, as her insurance offers discounts with them. Additionally, CVS has been advertising free testing. After filling out their webform, Marino was denied a test due to lack of symptoms. Marino’s coworkers were also experiencing problems. “Each one turned out to be having great difficulty, one staying on the phone for an hour only to be hung up on,” said Marino. “Another was able to successfully get an appointment through Project Baseline, but only by staying up until 12:30 a.m. and refreshing the calendar, and thus suggested we all follow suit.”

Rite Aid has been partnering with Project Baseline to offer testing at its locations. Marino turned to Project Baseline, where she was able to book a test at the Kingston Rite Aid after waiting for two hours for an available appointment.

Surprise bills hit patients

While the patient is responsible for seeing what they will have to cover when they aren’t using a New York State testing site, people getting tested for Covid-19 are receiving surprise bills days later.

Judy Diamond, a Gardiner resident, said she was charged $144 after being tested at a local urgent-care facility in July. They billed her with the code for a regular checkup, with no mention of getting a Covid test.

“It was not a checkup,” said Diamond. “Now the billing department says they can’t change the code that was originally submitted because they are not physicians.”

During her appointment, the healthcare workers told Diamond they could take her insurance and that she didn’t owe any money.

“I gave up and paid the bill,” said Diamond. “Then my friend who works for a doctor’s office told me I should be reimbursed, so I decided to fight it. So far, no progress.”

Meanwhile, her two children, who also got tested at the same location, had to pay their usual $25 co-pay, because they have different insurance. Five months later the healthcare provider told Diamond they would be correcting the codes and reviewing the incorrect bills.

Another individual who didn’t want to be identified by name was in a similar situation. She said she went to get tested at EmUrgent Care in Saugerties, where she was able to walk-in, experienced no wait, and received results in two days. She says she was charged $85.

“They asked several questions about exposure and after my answers they told me they can’t bill my insurance for it because I didn’t have 15 minutes or more maskless with less than six feet from the positive person,” she said.

Testing locations 

There are a number of testing locations in the area that offer Covid-19 testing. However, each has different requirements and restrictions, such as needing an appointment or for the patient to be symptomatic. Here is a list of testing facilities in the area and what you need to know before making an appointment. The details for each come from: covid19.ulstercountyny.gov/get-tested/.

Caremount: Rhinebeck and Poughkeepsie. Requires order from doctor, but can do in-office screening if the patient has no primary care doctor and is not a current patient, appointment as directed by doctor’s order, accepts some insurance.

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Emergency One: Kingston. Requires order from doctor and a screening is done at their urgent care, appointment not required, insurance is required. If uninsured, the patient can sign an attestation form and the fees will be submitted to the state through the CARES Act.

Nuvance Health/Kingston Multispeciality/Urgent Care: Hudson Valley Mall. Requires screening from urgent care staff, appointment not required, insurance not required but patients will be charged as a self-pay if they do not have insurance.

Rite Aid: Kingston. Doctors order not required, appointment required.

Grand Street/WMC Health: Kingston. Doctors order not required, no appointment required and accepts insurance.

Ellenville Hospital: Ellenville. Requires order from doctor, diagnostic test requires appointment, antibody test does not require appointment, accepts insurance but not required.

CVS: Various. Doctors order not required, appointment scheduled online, accepts insurance.

First Care Medical: Highland. Telemedicine appointment generates the order, appointment required, accepts insurance.

Walgreens: Highland. Online screening for appointment, appointment required online, insurance accepted but not required as the remaining proportion is picked up by State (CARES act).

New York State’s Department of Health Covid-19 testing protocol states that testing is available to all New Yorkers statewide    but, some privately-run test providers and labs were allowed to establish specific criteria to better meet the capacity with increased demand, which explains why some locations require an order from the doctor and an appointment.

For some, insurance covers the entire visit and test. However, for others, insurance might cover the test, but not the visit or screening. In some cases where insurance doesn’t cover anything at all, it can cost up to $150. New York State’s testing protocol indicates that diagnostic testing is covered by most health insurance at either zero patient cost, but in some instances patients need to pay out-of-pocket costs. Check with your insurance provider before being tested in order to understand what costs you will have to cover.

The most reliable way to get tested for free is at a state-run test site. There are only two sites – one at Anthony Wayne Recreational Area in Harriman State Park and the other is at SUNY Albany.

A state Recovery Service Center number (443-8888) can be used bythose who have not been able to get a Covid test due to cost or for other reasons.