Hours after the city of Miami Beach announced its first drive-thru coronavirus testing center, which will charge up to $125 per test for the uninsured, Gov. Ron DeSantis called for a “price gouging” investigation into a Hialeah testing center charging $25 more.
The Miami Beach testing center, which will be operated by the private clinic MedRite Urgent Care, is scheduled to begin offering tests on Wednesday at the 4621 Collins Ave. municipal parking lot.
But the announced investigation into a similar operation less than 20 miles west may bring about a change of plan.
“Whatever the law requires, we’ll have to be compliant,” said Mayor Dan Gelber. “Nobody anticipates supporting illicit tests.”
The Miami Beach testing center will charge up to $125 per test for those without insurance, according to a marketing firm representing MedRite. The firm, HXECUTE, “pivoted to support launching COVID-19 testing sites” after doing work at Art Basel.
There has been no mention of free testing at the Miami Beach center, despite a federal law passed March 18 that offers reimbursement to healthcare providers that offer free testing to the uninsured. Private insurance companies have generally waived testing fees during the national emergency.
“MedRite will allocate a percentage of the daily tests at reduced pricing in an effort to accommodate as many patients as possible,” said Matt McKenna, deputy adviser for HXECUTE.
Other drive-thru testing sites in South Florida operated by the state emergency management office and regional hospitals offer COVID-19 testing for free. Medicare is paying between $36 to $51 for the test, according to the New York Times.
Testing at the Miami Beach drive-thru will be conducted by appointment only and will be available only to those who have been pre-approved by a doctor. That includes people with symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, or those who have been in recent contact with someone who tested positive for the disease or who traveled to areas where the spread is more concentrated.
During a press conference Friday afternoon, DeSantis directed Attorney General Ashley Moody to investigate the $150 coronavirus tests being sold at a Hialeah testing site. While DeSantis did not name the hospital, Larkin Community Hospital opened a drive-thru testing site in Hialeah on March 20 and charges $150 per test.
“Our Miami Beach testing center is an extension of our existing Urgent Care facility in Miami Beach,” MedRite said in a statement. “We certainly are not breaking any laws but offering this valuable service to the Miami Beach community. We will certainly comply with any state or federal mandates regarding fees for testing.”
The company, which runs a drive-thru testing site in New York, has not yet had its special events permit finalized with the city of Miami Beach, a city spokeswoman said.
Miami Beach Commissioner Steven Meiner, who has pushed for two weeks to get a drive-thru testing center in Miami Beach, said he was “not involved in these discussions” and directed a reporter to contact the city administration or MedRite for further comment.
Commissioner David Richardson said he informed the city administration of the state’s announced price-gouging investigation. He said no one should be turned away because they can’t afford the price of a test.
“From our first discussions about a testing site in Miami Beach, I raised questions about how and who would pay for the service,” he said. “Initially, the provider was going to perform tests for those symptomatic individuals either insured or who have the ability to pay $125 per test. I have insisted that any program must be available to all, including those who are unable to pay for the service.”
This story was originally published March 27, 2020 7:48 PM.