COVID treatment will soon cost you

With federal COVID-19 funding lapsing, patients should prepare to start paying for treatment and testing.

"People in the past were able to come in for treatment of COVID symptoms without a copay and that is now changing," said Dr. Hannah Lichtsinn with Hennepin Healthcare.

At the start of the pandemic, policymakers enacted changes to increase access to COVID treatments and help health care systems better deal with the crisis. But as the virus moves out of the pandemic phase, those programs are being eliminated.

"As we realize this shift from pandemic to endemic… we’re going to have to face it with those normal costs and normal expenses that people are used to with insurance," said Dr. George Morris of Centra Care. "The hard part is, that is not zero and we know traditionally cost has been an issue in access to care."

The federal program that covered costs for the uninsured ran out of money last month. And while the Minnesota legislature took action to cover treatment, testing, and vaccines for the uninsured, that will end when the Federal Public Health Emergency Declaration ends—which could be soon.

Lichtsinn said Hennepin Healthcare is working with the Department of Human Services to make sure the four percent of uninsured Minnesotans can still get COVID treatment for little to no cost, as they worry people will not seek treatment if it's too expensive.

"I certainly have concerns that if people are concerned about the cost of care, they’ll avoid being tested or treated," said Dr. Lichtsinn. "No one should be afraid to get the care they need because they’re afraid of the bill they might have to pay."

Hennepin Healthcare, Centra Care, and Allina all say they will continue offering vaccines completely free of charge, despite the lapse in federal funding.