CHICAGO — For months, the process of booking a coronavirus test online at a city-run site took seconds. All Chicago residents had to do was fill out a short questionnaire and plug in basic information, like whether they had symptoms.
But now the questionnaire is much longer and asks people who have medical insurance to upload photos of their insurance card, even though all Chicago residents can get tested for free regardless of insurance status.
The city is now billing insurance companies and the federal government so it can be reimbursed for the tests, said Elena Ivanova, spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Public Health. It’s the same process state-run testing facilities and other city-run health clinics use, Ivanova said.
The city made the change at the end of September to keep free tests flowing in Chicago.
“To ensure the sustainability of community-based testing across Chicago — especially in high-need areas — on Sept. 23, the city of Chicago began a phased adjustment to the test registration process,” Ivanova said in an email.
Ivanova said that despite this new process, testing is still free to all Chicagoans “regardless of immigration status, insurance coverage or the ability to provide identification.”
Luvia Quiñones, the health policy director for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant & Refugee Rights, said the new questionnaire could be a barrier for uninsured and underinsured Chicagoans looking to get tested.
But Quiñones said she’s more concerned about the online booking system as a whole.
Those who book appointments online are sent to the fast lane, while walk-ups typically have to wait in line.
Quiñones said it’s an unfair process given many Chicagoans don’t have access to phones or computers and can’t book online or aren’t technologically savvy. Some only have a short window to get tested before having to head back to work.
Quiñones also said the online booking system is in English, which shuts out Chicago’s many Spanish-speaking residents.
More than 1.2 million tests have been performed in Chicago.
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