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Free Clinics Try To Fill Gaps As COVID Sweeps Away Job-Based Insurance

TUPELO, Mississippi — Joe Delbert hadn’t needed the Tree of Life Free Clinic in three years.

The 55-year-old man, who moved to Tupelo from Georgia to take care of his dying father nearly four years ago, found manufacturing work that came with health insurance. But last month, he joined 26 million other Americans who have lost their jobs because of COVID-19 in the past five weeks.

With the job went Delbert’s health coverage — and the money to pay for medications to control his diabetes and cholesterol. Insulin alone would cost him $600 a vial. Delbert said he would be sunk without the free clinic, which opens twice a month to provide health care at no charge to anyone without insurance.

“My medications are so expensive,” Delbert said. Because of the medication assistance, he added, “I can keep my head above water.”

Typically, three rows of benches outside the clinic

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COVID Tests Are Free, Except When They’re Not

Even before a novel virus swept around the world, Anna Davis Abel wore a mask to protect herself from getting sick.

The 25-year-old writer lives with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that makes her more susceptible to catching a virus or an infection. Davis Abel’s doctor cleared her to travel to a literary conference in San Antonio in early March. Then she developed a sore throat and low-grade fever several days after arriving home in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Consulting a nurse on the phone, Davis Abel was told to manage her symptoms at home. But her symptoms only worsened, so she secured an appointment with her primary care doctor.

“At that point, I was, like, taking shot glasses of Sudafed,” she said.

Given the spread of the coronavirus and a chronic condition that left her vulnerable to a more serious case of COVID-19, she was concerned she’d been infected. To

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Telehealth Will Be Free, No Copays, They Said. But Angry Patients Are Getting Billed.

Karen Taylor had been coughing for weeks when she decided to see a doctor in early April. COVID-19 cases had just exceeded 5,000 in Texas, where she lives.

Cigna, her health insurer, said it would waive out-of-pocket costs for “telehealth” patients seeking coronavirus screening through video conferences. So Taylor, a sales manager, talked with her physician on an internet video call.

The doctor’s office charged her $70. She protested. But “they said, ‘No, it goes toward your deductible and you’ve got to pay the whole $70,’” she said.

Policymakers and insurers across the country say they are eliminating copayments, deductibles and other barriers to telemedicine for patients confined at home who need a doctor for any reason.

“We are encouraging people to use telemedicine,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last month after ordering insurers to eliminate copays, typically collected at the time of a doctor visit, for telehealth visits.

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