A Miami man doesn't have the coronavirus but may now owe thousands of dollars for being tested

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The coronavirus outbreak has already killed thousands, and health officials are urging anyone who is experiencing flu-like symptoms and has recently visited China to get screened for the illness.

In the US, that kind of vigilance can cost patients thousands, according to the Miami Herald.

Last month, Osmel Martinez Azcue, a Miami resident, returned from a work trip in China with flu-like symptoms. He visited the hospital to make sure he didn't have the coronavirus, the Miami Herald reported.

Azcue had the flu, not the coronavirus. But he has limited insurance coverage and received a claim for $3,270 two weeks after his test. He'll be responsible for about $1,400 of that bill, according to the Herald.

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"How can they expect normal citizens to contribute to eliminating the potential risk of person-to-person spread if hospitals are waiting to charge us $3,270 for a simple blood test and a nasal swab?" Azcue told the Herald.

Hospital officials at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where Azcue was seen, told the Miami Herald that in addition to the bill, he would also have to provide three years of medical records to prove the flu he got didn't relate to a preexisting condition.

"That's the critical difference between [Affordable Care Act] plans and junk plans," Sabrina Corlette, a Georgetown University professor and codirector of the Center on Health Insurance Reforms, told the Herald. "[Junk plans] will not cover pre-existing conditions."

Azcue told the Herald he earns about $55,000 a year working for a medical-device company that does not offer health insurance.

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Azcue said he was covered under an Affordable Care Act-compliant plan last year that cost him about $278 in monthly premiums, but that shot up to $400 a month when his annual salary kicked in. He canceled his plan in November and now pays $180 per month for a limited plan from National General Insurance, he told the Herald.

Corlette told the Miami Herald Azcue's case was a cautionary tale of deregulation in the insurance market. 

"When someone has flu-like symptoms, you want them to seek medical care," Corlette said. "If they have one of these junk plans and they know they might be on the hook for more than they can afford to seek that care, a lot of them just won't, and that is a public health concern."

In 2018, the Trump administration rolled back the Affordable Care Act regulations and allowed "junk plans" in the market. Some consumers mistakenly think plans with lower monthly costs will be better than no insurance at all, but often the plans aren't much different from going without insurance altogether, the Herald reported.

When Azcue decided to go to a hospital for screening, instead of to a pharmacy for over-the-counter flu medicine, he felt it was the responsible choice. 

Still, he was worried about how much the visit would cost him. 

When staff members told him he'd need a CT scan to screen for the coronavirus, Azcue asked for a flu test first, he told the Herald. 

"This will be out of my pocket," Azcue told the Herald he said at the hospital. "Let's start with the blood test, and if I test positive, just discharge me."

Jackson Health officials told the Herald that there were even more bills for Azcue on the way. It's still unclear what those will total.

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