Providers can request reimbursement through a new web portal starting May 6 if they have treated or tested an uninsured patient for COVID-19, HHS said on Monday.
HHS will reimburse providers at Medicare rates for services dating back to February 4 if funding is available. Providers can claim reimbursement after they confirm the patient is uninsured, and if they agree not to balance bill the patient.
"These reimbursements help meet the growing demand for testing and healthcare provider services related to the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that uninsured individuals get the care they need," Health Resources and Services Administration head Tom Engels said.
Providers can sign up for the program immediately. The agency will start paying reimbursement claims by the middle of May.
Congress appropriated $1 billion for providers to test uninsured patients for COVID-19 under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. It also earmarked a portion of the $100 billion in provider relief funds "to support healthcare-related expenses attributable to the treatment of uninsured individuals with COVID-19," according to HHS.
The Trump administration recently defended its decision not to reopen enrollment for the Affordable Care Act's insurance markets, arguing that it wasn't necessary because Congress appropriated funds for coronavirus testing and treatment. But public health experts worry that people without health coverage will be less likely to seek testing or treatment if they're worried about being saddled with medical debt. Patients could also be liable for medical expenses if they seek treatment for COVID-19 but are diagnosed with and treated for something else.
That could make it challenging to carry out important measures like contacting tracing critical to fighting the outbreak.