Starr County to end free COVID-19 testing
Starr County will no longer be offering free COVID-19 testing at their mobile site starting on Wednesday.
Testing will continue for those with Medicaid, Medicare, private insurance or those who want to pay cash. The cost is $150 per test. Cost-free testing will remain available through the U.S. National Guard.
Free testing was initially offered by the county to expand access to those without monetary means to pay for the exam. The costs were being reimbursed with Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding, but it began growing at a pace faster than what they anticipated. On Monday alone, there's been 250 tests performed at the county's clinic, according to Starr County Health Authority Dr. Jose Vazquez.
"I don't know what's happening, but the county is getting enormous billing for the testing," Starr County Judge Eloy Vera said.
Starr County was allotted about $1.8 million in CARES Act funding distributed by the state. Unlike neighboring Hidalgo County, the total sum was not deposited into Starr County's bank account. Only 20%, or $367,000, was handed out to the county in the first payout.
Vera estimated they've spent between $200,000 to $250,000 of the initial reimbursement allotment, so far. It's gone mostly to "testing, labs, equipment, and PPE," according to Vera.
Testing was made available free of charge to a large swath of the population, but Vera believes some many are now getting tested multiple times. He's also concerned about the county's ability to corroborate the financial need.
“At the beginning it was working out great. However, now, we're getting a lot of people go in there and they say, ‘I have no insurance.’ We get the feeling that they might have insurance, but it's just easier to say, ‘I don't have insurance and let the county pay for it,’” Vera said.
There's no telling when the demand for testing will subside, but there are other needs facing residents of Starr County currently.
"We still have more money in the state that we need to draw down. We still have about $1.5 million, but I was hoping that this money could be used to help some of our citizens that are having problems with their utilities, making rent payments, and stuff like that that we could use some of the money for that. I don't want to spend it all just on testing," Vera said.
Credit cards, debit cards and money orders will still be accepted at the county's mobile site. The U.S. National Guard is expected to reopen their free testing sites midweek.