COVID-era waivers expanding telehealth reimbursements set to end this year

Health care providers supercharged their telemedicine offerings as a result of the pandemic—however, how those providers will be reimbursed for virtual care moving forward is in question.  

Prior to the pandemic, most providers did not receive enough reimbursements from insurance companies to justify expanding their telehealth coverage.  

That changed when the Centers for Medicare & Medical Services, a federal agency that oversees Medicare and Medicaid programs across the country, introduced leniencies on HIPPA requirements on video software and broadened access to Medicare telehealth services.   

Third party payers followed suit by expanding their telehealth service coverage, offering advanced payments to independent health care providers and waiving fees for members using virtual care.  

Coverage that was previously based on the discretion of insurance companies, has become common across insurers, said Andy Carter, president and CEO of the Hospital Association of Pennsylvania (HAP). 

“The number one impediment to telehealth expansion was that there was no payment model that you could get return on your investment because a lot of insurers wouldn’t pay for telehealth consults or appointments,” said Carter. “COVID changed that dramatically, where immediately public payers and private payers were paying for it across the board.”  

In a 2022 report on national survey trends in telehealth use, researchers with the US Office of Health Policy noted that from March to April 2020, telehealth use skyrocketed across the country from 1% to 80% in “places where the pandemic prevalence was high.”  

Today, patient usage of telehealth is significantly down from the days of quarantine, with the report finding that percentage had dropped to around 20% among adult respondents to a survey given between Sept. 29 and Oct. 11, 2021.  

Providers see telehealth usage remaining much higher than pre-pandemic levels with the focus now turning to how providers and insurers can work together to standardize telehealth.  

Standardizing telehealth  

HAP has spent years trying to standardize telehealth protocols and practices, particularly when it comes to reimbursing providers for telehealth services.  

Their most recent effort on that front has been backing Senate Bill 705, legislation that would require insurers to pay providers no matter if that provider is in that insurers’ network.  

Carter said that in the past, the association supported bills that would provide parity between in-person and virtual care, meaning that payers would need to reimburse providers equally for either service, but the association has now agreed to leave pricing to individual payers and providers.  

“We argue that standardization is hugely important,” said Carter. “Insurance is already complicated enough and a patient’s access to care through telehealth should not be a lottery. Parity was a nonstarter for our friends in the insurance community. We agreed to new language as an alternative.”  

HAP is also currently in support of House Bill 2419, which would allow for more flexibility for the state to allow providers to offer mental health services through telehealth permanently.  

House Bill 2419 has been passed in the House and is currently awaiting consideration in the Senate.  

Pennsylvania’s COVID-era waivers that explicitly authorized telehealth services to expand during the pandemic will expire this October. 

The waivers were set to expire at the End of June and were extended by the General Assembly on June 30.  

The waivers expand access to telehealth services, increase vaccine access, allow hospitals to quickly adapt to emergencies by altering space as needed for influxes of patients, and ease regulatory barriers to clinician licensing. 

Pennsylvania does not have any statutes that will prohibit the practice of telemedicine after the waivers expire but payers will be able to stop reimbursing for telehealth.  

“Absent the current COVID driven waivers and flexibilities, we won’t sustain telehealth the way we did before COVID,” said Carter. “It’s not supposed to go away. People got used to it.”  

Providing care in the virtual space  

In the two years since providers have embraced telehealth, virtual care has had a massive impact on how the industry cares for patients.  

Providers are now looking at how things like wearable technology and remote patient monitoring can keep tabs on patient health between visits, said Christopher LaCoe, vice president of virtual health at Penn State Health.  

“We’ve moved to the point where we have all these opportunities to do checkups for diabetes. We might be able to do that stuff here and then send (the diabetic patient) to the eye doctor and not make them drive to our office,” said LaCoe, adding that educators are now taking telehealth services into consideration when they teach incoming providers. “Medical schools are putting this in their curriculum. They used to say you need to see diabetic (patients) every three months and now they say once a year.”  

LaCoe, credited the waivers, calling the changes that happened to telehealth the pandemic’s “silver lining.”  

Pittsburgh-based Highmark Health was early to the market on allowing telehealth for its providers, but prior to the pandemic, providers had little guidance on what that should look like, said Dr. Tim Law, vice president and executive medical director at Highmark.  

“Highmark said you can do telehealth, but we won’t tell you how to do it—it wasn’t front and center,” said Law, noting that changed quickly during the pandemic. “We put together a virtual care playbook. Five years ago, I don’t think anyone would have thought of doing this. It includes where to find supplies, how to access Bluetooth technology so you can do remote patient monitoring and we show them what states allow providers to work across state borders.”  

Highmark provides parity for its covered providers using telehealth with some of the states the payer operates in mandating it.  

However, even though some insurers are ahead of the curve with how they support and pay for telehealth with their covered providers, providers outside of a network may find themselves without telehealth reimbursements, said Carter.  

“Some insurers will say we provide telehealth to our covered lives. It’s only to the telehealth providers they’ve enrolled in their network,” said Carter. “That’s a model that leaves a lot of people without access to their preferred provider. Someone they know and trust.” 

Two Harrisburg associations focus on equitable telehealth care with new program.

Two Harrisburg health care associations were awarded a total of $250,000 in grant money as part of a national initiative to make access to telehealth services more equitable.

The Rehabilitation and Community Providers Association (RCPA) and the Pennsylvania Association of Community Health Centers (PACHC) announced this week that they will be using the funds to work with legislators and support strategies to ensure that as telehealth services expand as a way for patients to receive care from home that it is done equitably.

The initiative follows all-time highs in telehealth usage following the COVID-19 pandemic as providers shifted to virtual care during quarantine.

“Without being able to meet face to face in many cases, telehealth platforms quickly became the service delivery vehicle for providers, consumers, stakeholders, and payors,” said Dr. Richard Edley, president and CEO of RCPA. “As with every crisis, these challenges opened our eyes to new opportunities. But we still have a long way to ensure telehealth expands in an equitable way for providers and the communities we serve.”

RCPA and PACHC are two of six associations spanning eight states to be awarded the funding through the Delta Center for a Thriving Safety Net. The Delta Center, based in San Francisco, is a national collaborative created to foster innovation in value-based care and payment through policy initiatives.

RCPA is one of the country’s largest health and human services state associations with 350 member agencies and PACHCS represents and supports over 350 Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC).

As part of the grant, the two organizations will:

  • Drive policy and practice changes to ensure access to quality physical and behavioral services and improve integrated care through telehealth.
  • Partner with legislators and stakeholders to develop telehealth standards throughout the Commonwealth.
  • Support actionable strategies to address the social determinants of health
  • Share consumer feedback to develop training and technical assistance, health literacy campaigns and language supports.

“The integration of physical and behavioral health is critical to the future success of delivering high quality health care services to the patients of Federally Qualified Health Centers and behavioral health providers across the commonwealth,” said Cheri Rinehart, PACHC president and CEO. “The incorporation of telehealth services in the delivery of care was essential throughout the pandemic and will continue to be a crucial tool for providers to use in delivering whole person care for the communities they serve.”

Following historic peaks in telehealth usage last year, patients are expected to continue to use virtual care

If you were to ask any health system executive what the future of health care was in 2019, they would have said telemedicine. And in March of last year, with patients unable to access their physicians because of the quarantine, that shift to telemedicine happened in weeks, not years.

Telemedicine services through health care providers saw an immense peak in use resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and, while many patients are returning to their physicians, area payers and providers have seen permanent changes in how patients expect care.

“When the pandemic hit, all health care providers were providing telehealth to some degree, but it was a small percentage,” said Jan Bergen, president and CEO of Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health during the Lancaster Chamber’s virtual State of the County event last month. “It gave us the ability to triage what patients needed to be treated virtually and who needed to be seen personally.”

Because of the pandemic, 2020’s telemedicine usage dwarfed 2019’s across hospital systems.

Last year, UPMC’s ambulatory telemedicine visits grew from about 250 a day in February 2020 to 15,000  by mid-April, said Dr. John Goldman, vice president of medical affairs at UPMC Pinnacle and infectious disease specialist.

“It’s since come down from that peak as more patients began to return to in-person clinical visits in our clean, safe hospitals, but today we still average about 6,500 telemedicine visits each day,” said Goldman.

Goldman added that improved telehealth services also means that patients have easier access to leading experts outside of the region, even if they are in an inpatient facility.

York-based WellSpan Health, which had already invested in telehealth products such as virtual urgent, primary and specialty care, and its MadelineRx online birth control solution, did more than 545,000 telehealth visits in 2020 as it expanded its services.

Dr. Roxanna Gapstur, president and CEO of WellSpan Health, said the patients ranged from newborns to the elderly, with 20% scheduled by patients over 60.

Penn State Health had also introduced telemedicine services prior to the pandemic but had focused on ALS care and urgent care through Penn State Health On Demand. In 2020, the Hershey-based health system saw its telehealth usage expand by 2,200%.

“We onboarded across our health system over 4,600 providers and staff,” said Chris LaCoe, vice president of virtual health at Penn State Health. “We enrolled around 60,000 patients and we really saw a massive uptick in our scheduled visits, our urgent care visits as well as some of the COVID screenings and testing that we had out there in the consumer space.”

Hospital systems in the region were already using video conferencing software between doctors and patients, and many health insurers already offered telehealth benefits prior to the pandemic. But reimbursements from third party payers, particularly Medicare and Medicaid, were much less than they would be in an in-person doctor’s visit if they were reimbursed at all.

HIPPA change

The changes started when the Centers for Medicare & Medical Services, a federal agency that oversees Medicare and Medicaid programs across the country, introduced leniencies on HIPPA requirements on video software and broadened access to Medicare telehealth services. Third party payers followed suit by expanding their telehealth service coverage, offering advanced payments to independent health care providers and waiving fees for members using virtual care.

Pittsburgh-based Highmark Health saw its members use telehealth services 3,400% more than they did in 2019 with over 3.4 million telehealth services being accessed.

Both Highmark and Harrisburg-based Capital BlueCross waived deductibles, coinsurance and copayments, also known as cost shares, for outpatient virtual visits last year and into 2021

“Early on, we realized the financial toll the pandemic was taking on those we serve, so we acted quickly to waive member cost shares,” said Jerry Reimenschneider, senior public relations specialist at Capital BlueCross. “We also recognized the economic strain the pandemic was placing on providers, and acted to ease that strain. During the public health emergency, we’re paying providers the same rate for telehealth visits that we would for in-person visits.”

At Capital BlueCross, virtual visits through network providers grew from 22% of the insurer’s telehealth claims in 2019 to 81% last year. Capital BlueCross saw its largest surge between March and May, but the increase was largely sustained throughout 2020, Reimenschneider said.

Here to stay

The region’s health care experts expect the changes in telehealth to stay to some degree. Dr. David Webster, executive medical director at Highmark, said that telehealth as an option to access care is here to stay.

“Behavioral health will likely be continued to be delivered via telehealth as there is rarely a need for a physical exam among other advantages of telehealth,” Webster said. “There will likely be some chronic disease management and urgent care among other services that will continue to be delivered through telehealth based on patient preference and if their clinicians continue to offer telehealth services.”

The problems of such a quick switch to telehealth were evident early on in the process according to LaCoe, who said that Penn State Health did not have the robust infrastructure that it does now and between that and the stress quarantining had on internet service, the first month of telehealth services was not devoid of issues.

While there will still be work needed to better integrate telehealth among providers and patients, LaCoe said that he doesn’t see telehealth services dialing back after the pandemic.

“If traditional health systems aren’t able to provide this service, there will be other groups out there that are willing to,” he said.

Telehealth claims exploded in 2020 for Highmark

Highmark members increased their use of telehealth services by 3,400% last year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unable to access their local providers because of quarantine, more patients than ever had access to virtual care in 2020.

Pittsburgh-based Highmark has offered telehealth services to its members for many years, but for a majority of its members, 2020 was their first year that they needed it, said Dr. David Webster, vice president and executive medical director of clinical services at Highmark.

“Overall, by the end of 2020 we saw an increase in utilization of telehealth services by more than 3,400 percent over 2019 and more than 3.4 million telehealth services were accessed by our members,” said Webster.

In 2020, Highmark paid local doctors nearly $300 million for telehealth services, an increase of more than 8,000% over 2019, according to Webster.

Even after stay-at-home orders were lifted across the state, Highmark continued to see patients rely on telehealth to avoid the virus as well as long waiting times for appointments.

Throughout the year, the insurer saw 1.5 million claims for behavioral health services and 1.1 million claims for primary care services. 3.3 million of Highmark’s claims were for local doctors while 79,000 came from telehealth vendors such as Brightheart, American Well and Doctor on Demand.

“Highmark’s data also showed that women were more likely to utilize telehealth, and that members aged 30-39 were the most likely to access telehealth services, with 350 per 1,000 members in this age group utilizing telehealth services,” he said. “We also saw the largest number of telehealth claims among members aged 19 or younger.”

Highmark Medicare waives co-pays for COVID inpatient hospital care in 2021

In preparation for its Medicare product rollout for 2020, Highmark Health ensured that it had the infrastructure to allow all of its Medicare consumers the ability to receive care through telehealth.

That foresight proved beneficial for the Pittsburgh-based insurer when the pandemic made it nearly impossible for most Medicare-eligible patients to receive in-person physical care.

With the framework already set to pay providers for their telehealth services in place, Highmark waived all of the costs for telehealth for its Medicare customers during the pandemic to ease the transition away from physical care.

The system was only able to enact those changes in the same year thanks to a series of regulatory rollbacks from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

For 2021, Highmark plans to continue to offer zero copay for all primary care visits, but will revert back to its previous cost-sharing amount with specialty care physicians, said Ellen Galardy, vice president of market strategy for Medicare markets at Highmark Health.

“Our strategy was to make sure that for COVID we covered all services,” said Galardy. “In 2020 we felt like we had to give a push to help people try telehealth for the first time. What we saw was almost all of that was primary care visits.”

Last week, Highmark revealed its Medicare Advantage products for next year. Galardy said the 2021 series of products were greatly affected by the pandemic, with Medicare-eligible customers having access to testing and vaccinations at no charge. The insurer also waived copay for inpatient hospitalizations related to COVID-19 for part of 2020 but will now be waiving copay for the entire year.

“With the advent of COVID, not only was Highmark one of the first to waive the cost of inpatient stays for COVID, we took steps early this spring to file for 2021 as well,” Galardy said. “We hoped that this would be behind us but we were proactive to make sure that our members didn’t need to worry if they found themselves in that situation.”

In anticipation for Medicare’s open enrollment period from October 15 to December 7, Galardy said Highmark has prepared its health care stores in Easton, Lancaster and Harrisburg to adhere to social distancing guidelines knowing that many of its customers feel more comfortable going to third-party locations rather than have a sales person come to their homes.

Galardy added that despite the preparations, many customers may decide to wait another year before choosing a Medicare product.

“Highmark is taking every bit of care to make (shopping in the COVID environment) safe and we are waiting to see if even more people will be looking or if they will delay shopping for a product for another year,” she said. “You see some people respond to COVID by sitting tight.”

New CMS proposal could lead to permanent changes in telemedicine reimbursement

A dramatic increase to Medicare reimbursements for telemedicine services that allowed health care providers to receive payment for services they provide online, could continue after the public health emergency is over.

In the country’s first weeks of the pandemic, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), a federal agency that oversees Medicare and Medicaid programs across the country, rolled out a series of rule changes that opened the door to reimbursements of telemedicine that were much closer to what a provider would make during an in-person meeting.

To promote social distancing and to protect at-risk patients from contacting COVID-19, the agency also introduced leniencies on HIPAA requirements that allowed providers to use a variety of video software while conferencing with patients.

Prior to the changes, approximately 14,000 Medicare beneficiaries across the country received telehealth services in any given week. Thanks to the changes in reimbursements, CMS reported that 10 million beneficiaries received a Medicare telehealth service from mid-March through early-July.

This month, CMS announced it will propose expanding telehealth reimbursements permanently after President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Improving Rural and Telehealth Access on Aug. 3. The order outlines CMS’ recent rule changes and the impact they’ve had on Medicare beneficiaries. In the order, Trump directs Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar to review the temporary measures and propose an extension to them as appropriate within the next 60 days.

While the changes in reimbursements only apply to Medicare beneficiaries, some health care providers expect that a permanent change to reimbursements could drive third-party payers to provide similar services.

Geisinger awarded $978,000 to improve telehealth services

Montour County-based Geisinger was awarded $978,000 from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to put towards equipment for the system’s telehealth services.

Geisinger, which operates Geisinger Holy Spirit in East Pennsboro Township, Cumberland County, announced it would be using the funds to purchase telemedicine carts, tablet computers and other equipment for telemedicine such as hand-held cameras and stethoscopes.

The system’s telehealth visits have skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, with providers conducting twice as many visits daily as the system’s monthly total, Geisinger wrote in a press release.

“Telehealth technology has allowed Geisinger providers to connect with patients while minimizing physical contact during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said David Fletcher, associate vice president for telehealth at Geisinger. “This ensures that our patients can maintain routine healthcare appointments, manage chronic conditions, and stay healthier overall even while staying at home.”

Geisinger is one of 514 organizations to receive awards through the department’s COVID-19 Telehealth program, which has already awarded $189.27 million in funding to health care providers across the country.

UPMC Pinnacle also received funding through the program and intends to use the $705,000 to purchase telehealth equipment as well as launch an on-demand virtual telehealth program for COVID-19 patients.

UPMC Pinnacle awarded FCC funding for telehealth services

UPMC Pinnacle was awarded more than $705,000 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to enhance telehealth services at its hospitals.

The Harrisburg-based UPMC will use the money for tablets, desktop computers, telemedicine carts and videoconferencing equipment to help improve communication between patients and their providers across the system’s facilities, the FCC announced.

The funds will also help the system launch an on-demand, virtual telehealth program to help triage, diagnose and treat COVID-19 patients and allow high-risk patients to stay at home, receive care and reduce exposure to health care workers and other patients, according to the FCC.

UPMC Pinnacle already offers video conferencing for COVID-19 patients and has grown its telehealth services exponentially since the beginning of the pandemic.

Within a week of increasing its focus on telemedicine, UPMC Pinnacle reported that it trained more than 650 ambulatory health providers and specialists to use its telehealth program.

The grant is part of a $200 million pool set aside for the FCC by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, approved by Congress in late March.

“The program provides immediate support to eligible health care providers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by fully funding their telecommunications services, information services, and devices necessary to provide critical connected care services until the program’s funds have been expended or the COVID-19 pandemic has ended,” the FCC statement.

UPMC Pinnacle is one of 514 organizations to receive awards through the department’s COVID-19 Telehealth program, which has already awarded $189.27 million in funding to health care providers across the country.

The FCC also awarded more than $499,000 to Lehigh Valley Health Network in Allentown, which is set to use the funds for videoconferencing equipment, software, tablets and network upgrades.

Highmark extends waivers for COVID-19 treatment and telemedicine payments

Highmark said it will be waiving deductibles, coinsurance and copayments for telehealth services and inpatient hospital care related to COVID-19 through September 30.

The Pittsburgh-based insurer announced on Wednesday that it extended a series of waivers that were originally meant to expire by the end of the month.

Through the extension, Highmark members will pay no deductibles, coinsurance or copays for in-network, inpatient hospital visits related to COVID-19 through the end of September.

“Our members have been getting COVID-19 treatment without having to worry about copays or coinsurance, and we want to make sure members can continue to receive that care as long as the pandemic continues to affect the regions we serve,” said Deborah Rice-Johnson, president of Highmark Inc.

Highmark will be extending its waiver on cost-sharing for telehealth until September and announced that it expanded its list of covered telehealth services to include some physical, occupational and speech therapy and additional behavioral health services.

Highmark’s expansion of telehealth coverage is something that can benefit both COVID-19 patients and immunocompromised individuals worried about going to hospitals during the pandemic, said Rice-Johnson.

“Medical experts both inside and outside of our organization tell us that individuals who suspect they have COVID-19 should avoid hospitals and physician offices and should instead contact a provider from home,” she said. “Telehealth is a great way to do that. Additionally, those who have other medical concerns can use telemedicine to get the care they need while avoiding the risk of exposure.”

Drop in patients could shutter many independent clinics

Every flu season, Dr. Jeffrey Harris’s clinic in Newville, Cumberland County, is packed with patients. It was just as busy during outbreaks like the H1N1 scare in 2009. But the COVID-19 pandemic has been much different for the medical center, which is currently seeing less than half the patients it normally would.

Independent medical practices like Harris’s Graham Medical Clinic have overhauled how they offer in-person visits to protect their staff and patients from contacting COVID-19, but if patients don’t return soon to their providers, many small clinics – some say 30 to 50% — could face closures by the end of the summer.

“There is certainly anxiety among independent physicians and other specialties,” Harris said. “I never would have thought that a health crisis would bring our patient numbers this low.”

Dr. Nader Rahmanian, a Wyomissing, Berks County-based geriatric specialist, is seeing only 10% of his patients face-to-face.

Telehealth services have become much more profitable for health care providers in the past two months thanks to changes that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services made regarding how much Medicare pays for telehealth services during the pandemic. Still, telehealth’s expanded payout for Medicare patients, isn’t closing the gap because many of Rahmanian’s patients don’t have internet connections or phones to use the service.

For an independent clinic that relies on patient visits to get the most reimbursements possible from insurers, failing to get patients in the door will not only harm the patient but could be the end of the clinic.

“I need to bring them to the office or get them to the emergency room, but they are afraid to go anywhere,” Rahmanian said. “They don’t want to go to labs either because they are worried about exposure.”

At Jackson Siegelbaum Gastroenterology, which reopened its Camp Hill office this week, each of its provider teams are doing face-to-face visits with patients just one day a week, said Heather Nairn, COO at Jackson Siegelbaum.

The gastroenterology group also operates a surgery center in Camp hill and another office in Harrisburg, which is planned to reopen by the end of the month. When they open, there will be changes: checkpoints for staff to check the symptoms and temperatures of patients before they enter the building, and waiting rooms that have been redesigned to keep patients six feet apart.

Heather Nairn, COO at Jackson Siegelbaum, said that providers need to go above and beyond safety measures to demonstrate to staff that they are willing to do what it takes to keep them safe.

“If you are demonstrating to your staff that you want to protect them, they are going to take that and transmit it to your patients when they call them to schedule and when they see them in the office,” Nairn said. “That message goes through.”

Both Rahmanian and Harris are relying on federal assistance to keep their employees on staff and remain operational, but with experts predicting that the COVID-19 pandemic will last long into the year, small clinics without the backing of large health systems will need additional help. Loans such as the Patient Protection Program are keeping clinics open by providing money to pay staff, but in the coming months Rahmanian estimated that 30% to 50% of the state’s independent practices may have to close or furlough their businesses. Other practices may be able to survive by partnering with area health systems.

Third party payers have yet to offer the same reimbursements for telehealth services as Medicare, meaning that providers will need to stomach the lower reimbursements for care if they continue to offer telehealth.

Nairn said she would like to see further support from commercial payers as well as other vendors that work with health care providers to help these small businesses stay open and retain employees.

“This is the time that we need a call to action for everyone to focus on the philosophy of people over profits and let’s build some partnerships to get through this crisis,” she said.

Patient First adds telehealth, COVID-19 testing services

Regional urgent care provider Patient First is offering telehealth appointments for its patients in Pennsylvania, and drive-up COVID-19 testing at a number of its locations in the state.

In a press release the health care company said that telehealth services are available for anyone 18 or older who was previously a patient at one of the Patient First brick-and-mortar clinics in the past five years.

Patient First now offers telehealth services and COVID-19 testing. PHOTO/SUBMITTED –

Patients can call ahead to determine eligibility for a telehealth appointment. Eligible patients will be connected to a physician who will review medical history and conduct a virtual exam.

If a prescription is needed the physician can electronically transmit it to the patient’s pharmacy.

For patients who have insurance that covers telehealth visits, Patient First will bill the insurer. A routine visit will cost $75, and $35 for a follow up, for patients without telehealth coverage.

Covid-19 testing

Patient First has also begun offering drive-up COVID-19 testing at a number of its locations.

Sites with drive-up testing capabilities include the location on Schoenersville Road in Bethlehem; Papermill Road in Wyomissing; Jonestown Road in Harrisburg and East Germantown Pike in East Norriton in Montgomery County.

Testing is by appointment only.  Appointments are made by calling a designated testing center.

Patients will be asked about symptoms and risk factors to determine if they meet screening criteria based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Criteria include the presence of COVID-19 related symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing and a fever.

Those who work in health care or need a test to determine eligibility to return to work or to obtain needed health care treatments, such as cancer treatment, are also eligible.

Samples are sent to a third-party reference lab for testing.  Results will generally be available in about two to four days and will be accessible on Patient First’s Patient Portal.

Most testing is covered by health care insurance. The cost is $90 for those who are self-paying.

Testing is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week.