If you need to be tested for coronavirus in Alaska, it’s likely free

COVID-19 diagnostic panel (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Here’s a little bit of good news about coronavirus in Alaska: If you need to be tested, it’s likely free.

The Alaska Division of Insurance is barring the companies it regulates from charging people for COVID-19-related testing, as long as it’s medically necessary. It’s also asked that companies waive any payments for the office visit associated with testing.

Alaska’s health department has been doing all the state’s testing free of charge, but private testing providers are starting to ramp up to ease a supply crunch.

“We want people, certainly, if they are presenting symptoms to be able to go to their physician or their provider and not have to worry about the cost-sharing,” said Lori Wing-Heier, Alaska’s insurance director.

Wing-Heier’s division has also asked insurers to allow members to get early refills of their prescriptions, in case they’re required to isolate themselves at home.

Read our continuing coverage of the coronavirus in Alaska

About 50,000 people are in plans impacted by the directives — those who get their insurance through the individual marketplace or a small group plan. If your plan is through a large employer, a public agency or a union, Wing-Heier recommends asking your insurer for details about testing costs.

At the White House on Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence said the leaders of major national insurance companies have also agreed to not charge for testing.

At least two of Alaska’s private insurers, Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield and Moda Health, say they’re complying with the state’s order to provide free testing. They’re also following the recommendation that fees for office visits be waived.

“We don’t want to have any barriers to access for testing or any other related expenses to get in the way of people getting tested and treated for this,” said Jim Grazko, the top Alaska executive at Premera, which has about 150,000 members in the state.

Grazko spoke from his home office in the Seattle area, as Premera employees try to avoid infection amid more than 100 diagnosed coronavirus cases in the region.

The free coverage applies to both in- and out-of-network providers, Grazko says.

Nat Herz covers government, politics, environment and COVID-19 for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at nherz@alaskapublic.org.

Previous articleAlaska News Nightly: Tuesday, March 10, 2020
Next articleLISTEN: This Anchorage resident’s elderly parents were stuck on the coronavirus cruise