Greenwich, Darien Residents Say Doctor’s Fees Charged to Insurance Companies for Covid Tests Suggest Broken Healthcare System

Social media was abuzz with comments from Greenwich residents over the weekend following a exposé on the fees charged to insurance companies by a Greenwich doctor who provided Covid-19 testing at his office at 1 East Putnam Ave in Greenwich, and at drive-through locations including the Leroy Ave commuter lot in Darien.

Drive thru Covid testing in the Leroy West Lot in Darien. Monday, Nov 16, 2020 Photo: Leslie Yager

A Nov 10 New York Times feature shared stories of people whose insurance companies were charged thousands of dollars in fees for multiple tests charged by Dr. Steven Murphy’s practice, Murphy Medical Associates.

At issue was the BioFire 2.1, large panel test that includes 20+respiratory pathogens, including rhinovirus and enterovirus, Murphy Medical administered.

Today the Murphy Medical website says, “Our lab proudly uses the BioFire 2.1 Respiratory Panel that tests for 21 respiratory pathogens, including SARS-COV-2.”

But that was not always the case as the website has been updated.

Patients thought they were signing up just for a Covid-19 test.

And while readers were shocked by the New York Times exposé, commenters from places like Scotland, Canada and Australia suggested the situation confirmed their belief the US healthcare system was broken.

A patient walks up (obscured in orange) to Darien’s drive through testing site in the 60 Leroy Ave Municipal lot in Darien on Monday, Nov 16, 2020

On Friday Attorney General William Tong’s Communication Director Elizabeth Benton declined to comment except to say, “We have an active and ongoing investigation and have for several months.”

After the NYT article came out, Darien’s First Selectman Jayme Stevenson and Health Dept director David Knauf said in a Nov 12 release that they, along with their town attorney, had met with Dr, Murphy.

“We have learned that Dr. Murphy uses the BioFire Respiratory panel of tests (21 in all) and not a simple COVID-only test, which is at the heart of the cost issue. While information about testing services and associated prices is likely available through Dr. Murphy’s office, it isn’t prominent when registering to be tested.”

– Darien’s First Selectman Jayme Stevenson and Health Dept director David Knauf

On Tuesday Darien announced Murphy Medical had “departed” and that the town had a new option for residents. Everpoint Health will use the same parking lot on Leroy to run a private, out-of-network testing center.

Everpoint Health also offers drive trough testing behind CVS on West Putnam Ave in Greenwich.

Everpoint Health requires patients to pay for testing services at the time of registration.

Notably, the release from Darien added that the town wanted a group that could potentially serve as a future partner in the upcoming COVID 19 vaccination roll out.

The Murphy Medical Associates Covid testing information page says there is no cost to patients for testing, and that insurance companies are billed directly.

Executive Order 7U mandates no cost to patients and payment for all COVID CARE by insurers.

Several Greenwich and Darien residents shared their experiences with Murphy Medical.

Darien resident Tracy Wilson said she came to Murphy’s office in Greenwich back in July because she wasn’t available to go to his drive thru testing site at Darien High School, where the town originally let him set up.

Wilson said she was grateful Darien had responded in the “crisis moment,” but she was surprised at the amount of Murphy Medical’s fees of $2,200 that went directly to her insurer, Anthem.

“I never saw the bill,” she recalled, adding that it wasn’t until later she found the EOB from Anthem indicating the $2,200 in fees.

“It’s completely outrageous,” she said. “It was just a complete scam. I understand people wanted to get this done and organized quickly, but if you’re going to hire someone to do this, at some point someone should have gone in and checked on him. …Someone didn’t do their due diligence.”

A Greenwich resident who asked that her name be withheld said her family of four was due to travel overseas in August and were required to have PCR tests within 72 hours before their trip.

She said after calling to schedule an appointment with Murphy Medical, a friend relayed a negative experience with the practice in which they were kept waiting for their test results.

“I got nervous and I called (Murphy Medical) office back and said, ‘I want to be really clear that this is only the Covid-19 test you’re doing for us,'” she added.

The woman said since she was worried she might not have the results back from Murphy Medical in time for the family trip.

To be safe, she also scheduled tests for her family at a different practice, “The Doctor’s Office” in Cos Cob.

“We got tested the same day by both Murphy Medical and The Doctor’s Office in Cos Cob, and received results back from both of them,” she said.

The Greenwich woman said Dr. Murphy not only tested for Covid, but also 10 other tests, and he charged her insurance company $1,500 for each of the four members of her family, for a total $6,000.

The Doctor’s Office in Cos Cob charged $125 per person for the Covid PCR test.

The woman called her insurance company, Anthem/Blue Cross Blue Shield, and was told they had denied Murphy’s claim.

“The person on the phone said they had never seen a claim for a Covid-19 test for $1,500,” she said. “They are requesting the doctor provide medical notes to explain this.”

She said another aspect of the ordeal that surprised her was that to register for a test, everyone, including young children were required to complete a lengthy medical questionnaire, including history of vaping and pregnancy.

“I wonder how that information is being used,” she said. “We certainly didn’t have to fill anything out for The Doctor’s Office.”

Ed Shea of Greenwich said the charges for his Covid-19 tests on Oct 20 totaled $4,127.26.

He said despite asking explicitly for just a Covid Nasal swab and antibody test, his insurance company was charged for 30 blood tests, and not one, but two office visits, though he only went to Murphy’s office at 1 East Putnam Ave once.

Shea said it all started when he needed to schedule dental work.

“I was thinking of them more than anything else,” he said, referring to his dentist and staff.

Shea said the Murphy Medical website said Covid-19 tests were free.

“I’d never have gone there had I not seen that,” he added.

After the tests, he said his insurance company denied the claim and were asking for more information from Murphy Medical.

He said he worried he might wind up on the hook for the fees.

Lastly, he said, a full month later, his Murphy Medical patient portal still did not show the results of those other 30 blood tests, which made him wonder if they’d even been done.

“It’s one thing that they ordered blood tests and charged for tests I didn’t consent to, but it’s another thing to charge for blood tests that were never done. That’s what I want to find out,” he said, adding that he had spent hours on the phone trying to sort out the situation.

“And, to deal with this in the middle of a Covid crisis?” Shea exclaimed. “If they end up billing me? Who wants to sweat that out?”

All three interviewed said they were concerned the “free” tests would ultimately be reflected in increased insurance premiums.

Many of the hundreds of comments on the Nov 10 New York Times article, including from readers in Australia, Italy, Canada and Scotland, were disparaging not just of Dr. Murphy’s fees, but of the US healthcare system.

A commenter from Scotland said, “Here in the UK all testings are free, accessed by appointment, you can request home testing kits, results emailed in 2 days. We are now getting ready for mass testing all over the UK, as we were let down by test and trace. All this is free as is all medical care….”

Commenters also noticed was Murphy’s website included a plea for volunteers to hep with testing.

In a YouTube video on the Murphy Medical web page for covid testing, Dr. Murphy said he sought volunteers so they might, “help the public, the patients and society and become part of the Murphy family.”

The YouTube video was deleted Tuesday night, but in it Dr. Murphy said:

“I started the practice because I wanted the patients to feel like family. I want to tell you a little bit about my family. My family consists of immigrants, pirates, horse thieves – and I knew that that type of person is a person who is willing to take risk and be brave,” Murphy said in the video.

A call and email to Dr. Murphy’s office on Wednesday were not immediately returned, but Murphy is defending himself.

A story in Bloomberg Law says Murphy Medical has launched a federal lawsuit against Cigna for denying his Covid testing claims. Murphy Medical sayid Cigna is wrongly refusing to reimburse more than $4.6 million in Covid-19 testing costs on behalf of more than 4,400 patients.

While Murphy’s practice still advertises drive-through testing sites at his practice in Greenwich, as well as Pound Ridge (NY), West Haven and New Haven, here in Greenwich it is possible to get a truly free Covid test that does not involve insurance.

Free Covid testing at the Family Centers Health Clinic located at Wilbur Peck. Nov 18, 2020

This reporter called Monday morning and was able to schedule a Covid-19 test on Wednesday at the Family Centers health clinic at Wilbur Peck, which is a property owned by the Housing Authority.

To register, questions were: name, DOG, ethnicity, address, a phone to be contacted with results, employed/unemployed, and job (optional).

Instructions for testing were to wear a mask and bring an ID.

The wait was a little over a half hour. Name, address, email and phone were confirmed, and insurance was never mentioned.

(Update: 48 hours after the Covid PCR test, the Family Centers called this reporter with her results. Thank you, Family Centers.)

Covid-19 testing is free at the Family Centers Health Clinic at Wilbur Peck in Greenwich. Nov 18, 2020