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Virus billing worth keeping close tabs on

Many people beset with high — and increasing — health-insurance premiums have little sympathy for the business challenges faced by insurance companies.

That’s human nature, and that attitude/viewpoint is not likely to change.

But a coronavirus-testing billing situation uncovered by the New York Times is justification for health care consumers, as well as federal and state lawmakers and top appointed officials on both levels, to take notice on behalf of remedial options that might be available.

And what has happened on the coronavirus-testing front should propel the same lawmakers and officials to look into other areas of health care billing — to determine what other billing practices might merit serious scrutiny.

Back to the Times’ coronavirus-testing price examination conducted by investigative reporter Sarah Kliff, whose reporting focuses on the American health care system and how it works for patients:

Kliff found that an Irving, Texas, diagnostic lab had been billing insurers $2,315 for individual coronavirus tests for which major diagnostic labs charge $100 — some even as little as $50. In several cases, that same Texas lab upped the price to $6,946 when the lab said it mistakenly charged patients three times the base rate.

Beyond the lab in question, the Times’ report pointed out a chain of emergency rooms in Texas and Oklahoma have regularly charged patients $500 to $990 for coronavirus tests and that a small hospital in Colorado and a laboratory in New Jersey also have come to insurers’ attention due to their especially high bills for those tests.

Those excessive prices eventually translate into higher health insurance premiums that individuals, companies and other entities pay.

From a financial standpoint, everyone loses except those being paid the excessive fees. Much more scrutiny needs to be given to this coronavirus issue.

According to Kliff’s reporting, one national health plan also was surprised to learn that the Irving, Texas, lab had added a fee for sexually transmitted disease testing onto some coronavirus bills.

Some Americans harbor total distrust of the news media. That is unfortunate, because most news entities strive to be fair and informative and try to balance their coverage among various viewpoints. What did an example of responsible reporting like Kliff’s, in this instance, accomplish? Consider:

In connection with the Times’ report, the Irving, Texas, lab said the $2,315 price was the result of “human error” that occurred when a billing department employee entered the wrong price into an internal system. It is interesting that the lab didn’t have a “backstop” to quickly identify such errors.

The lab said it reduced the price to $500 after one insurance plan flagged the price in mid-April, then reached out to the Times, saying that it had once again reduced the coronavirus-testing price, this time to $300. That still is $200 more than what many entities currently charge.

Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion regarding health-insurance companies, but people should not ignore the broader picture that the Times exposed.

Everyone’s wallet and pocketbook has a stake in such valid news media scrutiny.

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