The varying reliability of coronavirus antibody testing is by now well-established. The tests, designed to inform people about whether they’ve had COVID-19 and developed the antibodies needed to help fight the virus off, differ in their degree of accuracy. And given how new the disease is to the medical community, scientists are still trying to figure out how antibodies relate to immunity.
Yet, as government officials and health care providers caution that testing positive for antibodies doesn’t guarantee immunity, they’re also ramping up testing availability and lauding testing initiatives as a key step towards reopening the economy.
So, for those who do want an antibody test in the New York City area, Gothamist has compiled information on cost, accuracy, and turnaround time at a handful of testing sites. This guide is part of PriceCheckNYC, Gothamist’s collaborative project with WNYC, and ClearHealthCosts to promote transparency in health care.
The difference between labs and tests
The guide lists which lab each testing site works with as well as the tests that are used in that lab. While a testing site might say it uses a specific test, labs often rotate through the tests they have available. It’s important to note that this can change frequently as new tests gain emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration and labs seek to increase their capacity to process all the blood samples coming in.
The FDA has been allowing antibody tests onto the market that have yet to undergo the vetting process necessary to get emergency use authorization, and this guide also indicates whether a test has gained that expedited approval or not (only one site that uses tests without emergency use authorization is included here, mainly as a source of comparison).
The accuracy of each test is described in terms of specificity and sensitivity. A test with a high level of specificity is less likely to produce a false-positive result. A test with a high level of sensitivity is less likely to produce a false-negative result. There is often a trade-off between the two, with some tests sacrificing sensitivity for specificity or vice versa.
Readers who want to look up a test not listed here can check whether it has emergency use authorization from the FDA online. The FDA website also provides stats on the accuracy of these tests.
Many testing sites are now saying that they are waiving patient costs such as copays and deductibles for antibody tests in compliance with the federal CARES Act. However, some testing sites are not charging patients upfront, while others are charging patients and leaving it to their insurers to reimburse them. For instance, Will Compernolle told Gothamist that he was charged a $50 copay upfront for his antibody test at the MedRite Urgent Care in Brooklyn at the end of April. He was never told that he could have that cost waived. When he reached out to his insurer, UnitedHealthcare, he was told that he should not have been charged.
Additionally, some testing sites are also providing free tests to patients who are uninsured, while others are charging an out-of-pocket fee.
In the case of CityMD, the urgent care chain is waiving patient costs for the office visit associated with an antibody test, regardless of insurance, but cautions that the labs processing the tests will bill patients separately.