Eight major Oregon insurers agree to waive co-pays, deductibles for COVID-19 testing

An image of the coronavirus from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most large private Oregon insurers will waive the patients’ share in the cost of testing for COVID-19, Gov. Kate Brown’s office announced Thursday afternoon as the state braces for a growing number of cases of the novel coronavirus.

Brown’s office reached an agreement with eight major private insurers to spare insured Oregonians from co-pays and other such costs for testing and a vaccine if one becomes available. The deal covers about one million Oregonians with private insurance.

“I’d like to thank Oregon’s insurers for partnering with the state, so that medical providers can issue COVID-19 tests to anyone who needs one,” Brown said in a news release. “No one should have to ask if getting a COVID-19 test is something they can afford. I hope this agreement sets a framework that other states can follow nationwide.”

The deal comes with come caveats. It only applies to testing at in-network providers or urgent care facilities, as well as all emergency rooms. Participating insurers are:

BridgeSpan Health Company

Health Net Health Plan of Oregon, Inc.

Kaiser Permanente

Moda Health Plan, Inc.

PacificSource Health Plans

Providence Health Plans

Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield

Samaritan Health Plans, Inc.

The participating companies include most health plans sold on the state’s individual and group insurance markets.

Not yet participating are four of the state’s 10 largest insurers, who collectively cover about 92,000 people, according to data from the Department of Consumer and Business Services from September 2019. They are United Healthcare, Cigna, Aetna and Health Care Insurance Corporation.

Oregon Health Plan, which is run by the Oregon Health Authority, does not charge co-pays or deductibles to patients seeking testing.

Brown’s office is exploring a similar deal with self-insured plans, though one has not yet been reached, the release said. Short-term health insurance plans, health insurance ministry plans and other types of coverage that aren’t full insurance aren’t included.

The governor’s staff has also reached out to the federal government to clarify whether the state can take the same steps of waiving costs for those with Medicare Advantage plans and health savings accounts.

In Washington, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler issued an order Thursday morning requiring insurers to waive cost-sharing for COVID-19 testing. He could issue the order because Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has declared a state of emergency over the outbreak, a step Oregon hasn’t taken.

“Our typical approach is to collaborate with the insurance company to get them to do things like this for the benefit of Oregonians … versus mandating,” said Brad Hilliard, spokesman for Oregon’s Department of Consumer and Business Services, which regulates insurance companies.

Hilliard said the negotiations took place over about two days as insurers worked to change billing codes and update systems to process the change. Talks are ongoing with insurers not currently participating, he said.