Public Health and the Physicians Advisory Group (PAG) are walking back comments made by Governor Lou Leon Guerrero with regards to private clinics charging for COVID-testing, after a flurry of anger from Island providers.
At least two Island doctors penned letters to Governor Lou Leon Guerrero, after she went live on-air with Newstalk K57 Wednesday saying private clinics, “should not charge for [COVID] testing. Because we, the government, pay for that.”
In a Zoom interview with PNC News, Dr. Hoa Nguyen, the head of the PAG, clarified the Governor’s statements saying only GovGuam designated Tier 2 clinics and the Tier 3 with Abbott ID Now testing machines, will not charge for testing.
“They will see anybody but if you have private insurance then they will test you and then they’ll send the swab to DLS to run and there’s a cost to that, but the private insurance pays for the testing. If they don’t have any private insurance then the Tier 2 like FHP and SDA they will do the testing but they’ll send the test to Public Health to run. So again…the patient [in that case] would not pay anything, they pay zero and they walk out,” said Nguyen.
He added, “I just want to get the story straight to make sure people know that yes, the COVID-testing is at no cost to the patient [at Tier 2 clinics], but it does cost the private insurance or Public Health the fee for testing.”
He also said, “the term free should not be used…the term should be at no cost to the patient.”
There are four clinics that have the Abbott ID Now testing machines.
Those are: AMC, One Love Pediatrics, Guam Medical Care and Guam Radiology Consultants. Of note: Dr. Nguyen’s clinic is AMC.
Two Tier 2 clinics don’t have Abbott ID machines, those are SDA and FHP.
Janela Carrera, the DPHSS spokesperson says technically, Guam Radiology is a “Tier-3 clinic.”
She too was on the record clarifying the testing situation on Island.
“Certainly, no clinic will turn a patient away for COVID-19 testing. And, we won’t leave any patient behind…there is no point where we will tell a patient you cannot get tested. There will always be an option for a patient to be tested, whether they have the ability to pay or not. And, if there’s a cost that they’re being told they have to pay, there’s always that option to go to Northern Public Health.”
Dr. Nguyen says the limitation at the Tier 2 and Tier 3 clinics is how many patients they can realistically see everyday. He says the only way they’ll turn a patient away is if they’re absolutely maxed out for the day.
“We prioritize if you have symptoms, all patients who are symptomatic we try to see them the same day at the Tier 2 clinics and those patients are seen at no-cost to them. They come in, they get screened for symptoms, get seen and they walk out. Whether they have insurance or no insurance…it’s at no cost to them,” said Nguyen.
“Typically, on the average day we’ll see 30-50 patients, sometimes much heavier, depending on how sick the population is.”
In addition, Nguyen says co-pay for approved COVID-testing should not be collected at the GovGuam designated clinics.
“For any type of COVID-related illness, [that’s] symptomatic, the insurance…whether you have a deductible or not…you don’t count your deductible because the private insurance by law is required to pay the whole thing for you.”
Dr. Nguyen says if people have private insurance then the insurance can be billed for the professional fee. However, if they have no insurance then they’re seen “at no cost” at Tier 2 and Tier 3 clinics.
There are exceptions to the no-cost testing at designated clinics however, with Dr. Nguyen saying, “if you do the travel clearance to go to Hawaii for vacation…no insurance will pay for you, because you’re on vacation. So yes, the clinics will typically charge you $150-$200 to do the testing for you. But you have to remember that around half of that money, or more, will go to Diagnostic Lab Service to run the test.”
Dr. Nguyen further clarifies that the cost incurred starts with insurance companies not covering travel clearances and therefore, DLS and the clinics cannot recoup the cost.
He also says if a private company is doing close contact tracing because someone among their staff is positive, then in that case, the testing is also not covered by private insurance or Public Health, therefore the company will have to come out of pocket (or individuals etc).
As for the outcry from the private clinic community on Guam after the Governor’s comments, Nguyen said, made it clear that they are automous and are can make any decisions pertaining to their business.
“This does not apply to any private clinic. Private clinics like ExpressCare, IHP, other smaller clinics…this does not apply to them because they’re a private clinic.”
Dr. Nguyen is encouraging anyone on Island who feels they’ve paid for testing at one of the Government’s designated clinincs (AMC, One Love Pediatrics, Guam Medical Care, Guam Radiology Consultants, SDA or FHP), but shouldn’t have, to contact their provider.
“We see hundreds and thousands of patients, maybe 1 or 2 which the staff have made a mistake, which I don’t deny that it’s happened at AMC, FHP, SDA because we see so many [patients]. So, I think that randomly if the patient happens to have paid something [and shouldn’t have] then we refund them once we find out…but you have to bring that to the attention of upper management for us to do that.”