COVID-19

Should I Go To Urgent Care for a COVID-19 Test?

Alexis Bryan
Alexis Bryan6 Apr 2022

Urgent care centers are a convenient way to get a COVID-19 test, but may charge a fee or require you to pay out-of-pocket if they are not “in-network”. COVID-19 tests are available in a variety of settings, including at state or locally administered testing sites, drive-thru sites, walk-up sites, and urgent care centers.

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COVID-19 Tests at Urgent Care Centers

The main benefit of getting a COVID-19 test at an urgent care center is that you can make an appointment ahead of time. Many walk-up sites have long lines, and no option to make an appointment. If you have been exposed to COVID-19, urgent care centers are a reliable way to get tested.

The downside is that it can cost up to $200 upfront for a COVID-19 test at an urgent care center.

COVID-19 Testing Under the CARES Act

The CARES Act is a federal program that covers the cost of testing for those without health insurance and requires insurers to cover the cost of COVID-19 diagnostic tests for those with health insurance. If you are uninsured and choose to get tested for COVID-19 at an urgent care center, check to see if they participate in the CARES Act. 

Under the CARES Act, plans and insurers must reimburse out-of-network providers for COVID-19 tests, including urgent care centers. Patients do not need a referral and will not be held responsible for any cost-sharing (deductibles, copayments, or coinsurance) for a COVID-19 test. Despite federal law, patients are frequently billed for “related expenses”.

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Cost of a COVID-19 Test at an Urgent Care Center

The cost of a COVID-19 test at an urgent care center depends on if you have health insurance and, if so, what plan you are enrolled in. If you have insurance, it is best to choose an “in-network” urgent care center to make sure you are reimbursed for the cost of the COVID-19 test with no hassle.

Before making an appointment for a COVID-19 test, contact your insurance carrier for details about your plan details and coverage, including copays, before you visit an urgent care center.

If you do not have insurance, most urgent care center websites have “self-pay rates” if they do not participate in the CARES Act. For some urgent care centers, you may need to call and ask for these rates. You also want to check to see if they are going to charge you for an office visit fee because the bill can quickly add up.

Will I receive a bill for a COVID-19 test?

For people with health insurance, the urgent care center will file your insurance and charge you for the COVID-19 test until the insurance claim is processed. In this case, you pay upfront but are reimbursed. If you receive a bill and are not reimbursed, you should call your insurance company directly.

If you do not have health insurance and receive a bill you were not expecting, you should call the urgent care center directly. In some cases, you may need to dispute the surprise medical bill.

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What type of COVID-19 tests can I get at urgent care centers?

Most urgent care centers offer both rapid and PCR COVID-19 tests. If you get a rapid test, you will receive same-day results, but they tend to be less accurate. PCR test results can take up to 7 days depending on how busy the urgent care center is.

If you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, or have been exposed, another option is at-home COVID-19 testing. As of January 15th, all private insurers are required to cover the cost of at-home tests to enrollees. 

If you are without health insurance, there are options for obtaining free COVID-19 at-home tests. Starting January 19th, American households will be able to order four free at-home tests. To order yours, visit COVIDTests.gov, and tests will typically ship within 7-12 days of ordering.

Bottom Line

Urgent care centers are a common way to get tested for COVID-19 and usually offer both rapid and PCR tests. If you have health insurance, your insurance company will reimburse you for the cost of the test if the urgent care center is in-network. In most cases, they will charge a fee for the test unless they participate in the CARES Act.

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