The Korea Herald


COVID-19 rapid tests bring bonanza to local clinics

Health insurance service pays 730 billion won to test providers in Feb., March

By Park Han-na

Published : April 21, 2022 - 08:27

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A medical worker prepares a dose of a booster vaccine against COVID-19 at a hospital in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap) A medical worker prepares a dose of a booster vaccine against COVID-19 at a hospital in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

Local clinics and hospitals received over 700 billion won ($564 million) won in total in February and March for conducting rapid antigen tests from the national health insurance scheme, data has revealed.

According to data submitted to the National Assembly by the Ministry of Health and Welfare on Tuesday, the National Health Insurance Corp. received claims for payment of medical expenses involving COVID-19 rapid antigen tests totaling 730.3 billion won between Feb. 3 and April 3.

This is explosive growth, given that in previous months the insurance scheme’s monthly payouts to medical institutions were somewhere between 100 million won and 600 million won.

Per swab, the health care service providers received 55,920 won, including the examination fee, test fee and infection prevention and management fee.

An examinee paid only 5,000 won and the rest of the amount, 50,920 won, was paid by the National Health Insurance Service to the hospital.

As virus cases snowballed, South Korea began acknowledging COVID-19 diagnoses via rapid antigen tests, a break from its previous adherence to polymer chain reaction tests, which are more accurate but take longer and require a laboratory.

During the cited two-month period, at least 12.89 million tests were conducted at clinics and hospitals, according to the filings for coverage claims by the institutions.

Of the total of 730.3 billion won they claimed, 716.8 billion won was covered by the health insurance, and 13.4 billion won was absorbed by a medical welfare package for low-income earners.

Taking the lion’s share were clinic-level medical institutions receiving 682.9 billion won, or 93.5 percent of the total. General hospitals and other hospital-level institutions received 47.3 billion won during the period, the data showed.

Since footing the hefty bill, the government has slashed benefits to test providers starting from April 4.

They no longer receive infection prevention and control fees, which were given to cover the cost for preventing the spread of infections in medical institutions conducting the test.