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3-minute COVID test turns into $3,000 insurance bill, Spring woman warns

The charges included $2,113 for an emergency room visit and $602 for a physician’s diagnosis. But the woman said she never saw a doctor and never set foot in any ER.

SPRING, Texas — UPDATE: United Memorial Medical Center has provided documentation that it never billed United Healthcare for medical office visits in the case of Laurie Delgatto-Whitten, and a United Healthcare spokesperson confirms it will revise her explanation of benefits. However, UMMC concedes it ordered extra lab work without Delgatto-Whitten’s consent. Read the update of how the hospital is voiding those charges in her case and others.

PREVIOUSLY: A Spring woman is sounding the alarm about a COVID-19 testing site after a three-minute drive-thru test somehow turned into a $3000 charge to her insurance company.

“I was just floored by it, I couldn’t believe that in the midst of a pandemic, I mean this feels like a racket,” Laurie Delgatto-Whitten said.

After feeling some chest pain and shortness of breath in May, Delgatto-Whitten went to the United Memorial Medical Center testing site in the 20,000 block of Kuykendahl Rd.

She said she drove up, a nurse walked out and swabbed her nose and that was it.

But two months later, she learned her insurance company, United Healthcare, was billed $3,165. The charges included $2,113 for an emergency room visit and $602 for a physician’s diagnosis. She never saw a doctor and never set foot in any ER.

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“I never got out of my car, I rolled down my window,” Delgatto-Whitten said.

 Also on the bill were $450 in laboratory fees for a half dozen tests she said were piled on without her knowledge or permission.

“It feels like, at a minimum, price gouging. At a maximum, this is incredibly deceitful," Delgatto-Whitten said. 

The chief medical officer for United Memorial Medical Center did not have an immediate explanation.

“I cannot (explain the charges),” said Dr. Joseph Varon. “I cannot explain any of those tests."

United Memorial Medical Center partners with the Houston Health Department and runs several drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites around the city.

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Local politicians have praised UMMC for helping in the fight against the pandemic. 

Dr. Varon said more than 140,000 tests have been done so far.

He pledged to look into the charges billed to Delgatto-Whitten’s insurance.

“I am going to get to the bottom of this no matter what,” he said. “It is not my intention as chief medical officer that this happens in any way, shape or form.”

Dr. Varon added that her case was the first time he’s heard of such high charges to insurance for a simple COVID-19 test.

“Your viewers obviously have the choice of what to believe,” he said.

In a statement, a United Healthcare spokesperson said it is looking into Delgatto-Whitten’s bill and beyond:

“In addition to looking into this center’s billing practices, we are conducting a broader review of egregious and inappropriate provider billing, particularly as it relates to free-standing clinics and coding for COVID testing and treatment.”

The insurance company is waiving any cost-sharing for COVID-19 related testing, and Delgatto-Whitten did not have to pay anything out of pocket.

But she fears she could pay down the road.