Costs of typical services for evaluating patients seeking care associated with COVID-19 not only vary dramatically from city to city across the U.S., but also vary widely within the same city, according to an analysis released Friday by Castlight Health, a health navigation platform.
Costs also vary depending on the source of care: a telehealth provider, a primary care doctor, an urgent care clinic or an emergency room.
“While the test for COVID-19 may be made available at no cost, individuals seeking care for suspected COVID-19 may be faced with other significant out-of-pocket costs for that care,” Castlight Health’s chief executive, Maeve O’Meara, said in a statement.
“Sadly, those bills may be coming right as many Americans are losing their paychecks, creating real affordability of care issues.”
Castlight Health evaluated the out-of-pocket cost of care in these cities and their surrounding metropolitan areas: Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, the District of Columbia, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Seattle.
Widely Varying Costs
The analysis found that costs depend on severity of symptoms. In the Seattle metro area, for example, a patient with a fever and a cough but no chest pain who goes to a primary care doctor for an evaluation can expect an average cost of $197.
But if the symptoms include a high fever, cough, chest discomfort and shortness of breath, the doctor will likely order lab tests and a chest x-ray, increasing the cost of a primary care evaluation to an average of $1,001.
The site of care also affects costs, according to the analysis.
Even absent symptoms severe enough to warrant lab testing, a diagnostic evaluation can cost someone living in the New York metro area $0 to $100 for a telehealth visit, $100 to $450 for a primary care visit, $250 to $514 for an urgent care visit and $506 to $4,985 for an emergency room visit.
Costs vary between markets. In Seattle, the cost of an evaluation involving a primary care visit, a standard set of lab tests and a chest x-ray will average $1,001, in San Francisco $2,493 and in Miami $3,153.