Troubles with COVID testing

There's way more testing for COVID-19 now in the Philly region than there was when the lockdowns started three months ago. So why can it still be so tough to get a test?

Listen 17:05
An airwoman provides a COVID-19 test

An airwoman provides a COVID-19 test on May 22, 2020. (Staff Sgt. Caleb Vance/U.S. Air National Guard)

Despite increased testing capacity and expanded eligibility guidelines, it can still be tough to get a COVID-19 test and timely results.

WHYY health reporter Nina Feldman recently documented the roadblocks she and others have come up against trying get tested, and joins us to break down why the patchwork testing efforts people are encountering across the region reflect bigger problems with our health care system in general.

Hear the whole story on The Why

On problems with Philadelphia’s COVID-19 hotline

What I think is happening — and this is really just my sleuthing based on what the city has told me and what patients’ experiences sound like — is that people are calling the hotline, saying to the person on the phone where they live, that person is directing them to the health center that is the closest to their house, but isn’t necessarily one of these designated COVID testing centers. So when the person calls, whoever answers the phone says, “Oh, we’re not testing for your zip code here.” And so then they call back to the hotline again. And if they’re lucky or if they’re patient, they get transferred to the correct testing site. That is where they should have been directed in the first place.

On problems using her insurance to pay for a test

I did the intake with the receptionist on the phone and then was told that I would have an $89 copay. And I was surprised by that because my understanding with my insurance was that everything was covered. And then I did some back and forth and I called the insurance company and they said we ended up figuring it out and. And it was covered. But I didn’t find that out until days later after I had already gone in and gotten tested. And I was just thinking about the fact that if I hadn’t been able to front the $89 or hadn’t been willing to, that could have been my sort of, “Well, this is too hard, this is too complicated” — my barrier to getting testing.

And there definitely are people who have gotten in touch with me that have had smooth and easy experiences getting a test. But it does kind of seem like it depends on heavily on your insurance and how comfortable you are navigating the medical system or what day it is or who you talked to on the phone. So there are just a lot of kind of pitfalls that if you hit the wrong way, you might have a really hard time

On what testing problems reveal about the health care system

We’re seeing a new branch of the American health care system developed sort of in rapid speed before our eyes. Unfortunately, I don’t actually think the uncoordinated way that we are handling this with all the puzzle pieces that sort of don’t quite seem to fit together … I don’t think that’s exceptional at all. I think that’s more the rule. It’s just we’re used to it in a lot of other health care settings in this country. And this is just the latest one to join the bunch.

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