JEFFERSON CITY — Paying for a COVID-19 test without insurance could soon get a little easier thanks to the top Democrat in the Missouri Senate.
Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, is pushing a plan to have the state cover up to $150 in costs per test for people with a doctor’s recommendation to get tested but no insurance coverage to help pay for it.
Rizzo said the idea, which passed the Senate Thursday and still needs House approval before the session ends Friday, would be key to getting a struggling economy get back on its feet.
“I would argue that government doesn't reopen businesses, people do,” he said in debate Wednesday night. “And they will do that when they feel safe, and they will feel safe when there is a proper amount of testing done.”
He said that couldn't happen if some people aren't getting tested because they're worried about the bill.
The idea initially prompted concerns about cost from Republicans, including Sen. Dan Hegeman, the chamber’s top budget-writer.
Hegeman also worried that the idea would encourage insurance companies currently paying for their customers to be tested to drop that coverage and let the state pick up the tab.
"We don't want to encourage providers to drop that service, and certainly not with the taxpayers footing the bill,” he said.
But those concerns were taken care of with the $150 limit and language ensuring that federal money would cover the cost rather than state money.
Another amendment says insurance companies can’t cut a customer’s coverage related to COVID-19 testing during a state of emergency unless the customer stops paying premiums.
Gov. Mike Parson’s current emergency declaration is in place through June 15.
It was not immediately clear how many people would be affected by the legislation.
Some private insurers are already covering tests to determine whether someone is infected with COVID-19, but the plan could feasibly help a large number of uninsured residents.
The vast majority of Missourians get health insurance coverage through their employer, so it's likely some of the thousands laid off in recent weeks would qualify.
Nearly 250,000 people were on Missouri's regular unemployment rolls during the week ending May 2, the most recent week for which tracking data is available.
Congress attempted to help the uninsured get tested in the Families First Act by giving states the option to cover their testing and related health visits through Medicaid.
It was not immediately clear whether Missouri had taken that option; the Department of Social Services did not respond to emailed questions Thursday.
Rizzo, for his part, said in a statement he just wanted to eliminate as much uncertainty for people as possible.
"No Missourian should be denied a COVID-19 test simply because they can’t afford it," he said. "This legislation will cover these costs so that people do not have to face the frightening uncertainty of not knowing their COVID status.”
The idea dovetails with efforts in the executive branch to increase the amount of testing taking place as the economy "re-opens."
The state loosened the criteria people have to meet to get tested last month to encourage more testing, and Parson said Wednesday that the state and partnering providers are at a point now where they can do up to 60,000 tests a week.
Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader's politics reporter. Got something he should know? Have a question? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.