Health officials announce more than 22 million Californians will be eligible for free coronavirus testing

Coronavirus
A woman wears a face mask at Los Angeles International Airport on March 2, 2020. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

A woman wears a face mask at Los Angeles International Airport on March 2, 2020. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

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State officials announced Thursday that more than 22 million Californians will be eligible for free coronavirus testing when medically necessary.

All commercial and Medi-Cal health plans regulated by the state’s Department of Managed Health Care were directed to cover the entire cost for all medically necessary screening and testing for COVID-19, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Public Health announced Thursday.

The agency’s initiative applies to 22 million people and includes waiving cost-sharing — including but not limited to co-pays, deductibles and coinsurance — for emergency room, urgent care or provider office visits when the purpose is to be screened and tested for the virus, officials said.

The need for testing is based on medical necessity, which is a clinical determination made by medical professionals on a case-by-case basis, the agency said.

The cost waiver comes a day after a local health emergency was declared in Los Angeles County, in order to secure necessary resources to prevent further spread of the virus. So far, 11 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the county and 60 in the state.

Also on Wednesday, Gov. Newsom declared a statewide emergency after Placer County announced the first fatality from the virus in the state. It was the first U.S. coronavirus death outside Washington state.

“Californians shouldn’t have to fear a big medical bill just because they took a test for COVID-19,” Newsom said in a statement released Thursday. “We’re all in this together, and I’m grateful to those health providers who have already stepped up and heeded our call.”

There are no expected costs for the state associated with the new initiative, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The initiative does not mean that every Californian should seek testing, according to Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency.

“If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and may have had contact with a person with COVID-19 or recently traveled to countries with apparent community spread, call your health care provider or local public health department first before seeking medical care,” Ghaly said.

The California Department of Insurance issued a similar cost waiver for 2 million people, bringing the total number of those ensured to 24 million, in an effort to remove cost as a barrier to receiving medically necessary screening and testing for the virus.

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