✅ Cost-free COVID testing

A woman gets her nose swabbed for a COVID test. Image via iStock
Image via iStock

By Kristen Hwang 


SB 510 would put a stop to “surprise billing” for COVID-19 tests and vaccinations, ensuring patients face no out-of-pocket fees from health plans and insurers during the public health emergency regardless of whether they receive their services through in- or out-of-network providers. The bill, by Sacramento Democratic Sen. Richard Pan, would also require insurers to fully cover COVID-19 screening tests—like those increasingly required on a regular basis by employers and schools.


The California Medical Association, which sponsored the bill, and the California Academy of Family Physicians argue federal guidance on cost sharing is unclear and this bill is necessary for patients to quickly receive testing and treatment. Another key supporter: the California Teachers Association.


Health insurance groups such as the California Association of Health Plans and the Association of California Life and Health Insurance Companies oppose the bill provision that makes it retroactive to when the COVID state of emergency was declared March 4, 2020. They also don’t want the bill to cover future disease-related states of emergency. The state Finance Department warns that could cause unknown impact to the state’s General Fund.


The two federal laws regulating COVID-19 testing and treatment exempt insurers from covering tests conducted for “public health surveillance or employment purposes.” However, even with vaccines widely available, public health experts have insisted that routine surveillance testing is crucial to slowing and stopping the spread of disease due to the highly infectious nature of COVID-19 and its variants and the high number of asymptomatic carriers.


Newsom signed the bill on Oct. 8. In a signing message, he said the bill “will ensure uniformity in testing payment and access rules throughout the state.” He also said he is directing the Department of Managed Health Care to issue guidance “to address concerns about how the prevailing market rate is determined. This would help prevent price gouging.”