COVID-19 surprise billing: Dental offices, labs hitting customers with extra fees

The Insurance Department of Pennsylvania is warning consumers after receiving complaints about inappropriate billing practices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s called “COVID-19 Surprise Billing.”

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State officials told Channel 11 it’s a problem not only in Pa., but also across the country. So, if you plan on going to the doctor or dentist, be sure to double check your bill for unexpected fees.

There are two issues the Pa. insurance department is receiving complaints about from consumers: personal protective equipment fees from dental offices and lab bills from COVID-19 testing sites.

“The surprise PPE fees on the dental side we’ve typically heard somewhere between I think $10 and $30,” said Mike Humphreys, chief of staff for the insurance department. “At the end of your service when you go to pay your bill or checkout, you’ll see a new line that hasn’t been there from previous visits. And it would be some form of PPE fee -- if it’s for enhanced PPE for staff and/or the patient.”

Channel 11 learned in some instances, the fees are from mitigation techniques like a revitalized HVAC unit for a dental office.

Humphreys said consumers’ complaints are based on the contracts with insurance companies not including these fees, leaving consumers to cover the cost.

Surprise bills for COVID-19 testing is another issue.

According to Humphreys, officials have seen complaints that reported up to $4,000 in extra fees. One $4,000 bill, Humphreys said, was for a coronavirus diagnostic test from an out-of-network and out-of-state laboratory.

In that case, Humphreys said the consumer was “made whole” by the insurance company.

State officials told Channel 11 if a physician orders a COVID-19 test for a patient, that test should be covered with no out-of-pocket copay for the patient.

But the bottom line is you should double check your bill. If you see an unexpected fee, call your insurance company immediately.

You can also file a complaint through the state insurance department or the attorney general’s office.