By Jim DeFede

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis accused a Hialeah hospital of possible “price gouging,” because it charges individuals seeking the test for the
coronavirus $150. He called on the state’s Attorney General to launch an investigation.

“There always seems to be people who want to use unfortunate circumstances someone finds themselves in, for their own personal gain or business gain,” DeSantis said during his daily press briefing Friday. “And unfortunately, we are seeing that here with this virus. We’ve seen reports of a hospital in the city of Hialeah in Miami Dade County that is charging individuals $150 to get tested for COVID-19. Many of these are low-income individuals.

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“And I just want to say that is not acceptable,” he added.

DeSantis did not identify the hospital by name, but Larkin Community Hospital opened a drive-through testing center one week ago.

Jack Michel, a physician and Larkin’s CEO, told CBS Miami that he does charge $150 for the test. He said he was surprised when he heard the Governor’s comments and that no one from the state had contacted him.

Watch Governor DeSantis’ press conference in its entirety

Michel defended the charges for the test.

“LabCorp and Quest get paid for the test and we are essentially a private lab just like them,” he told CBS4’s Jim DeFede.

The drive through testing center was established, he explained, because he believed more testing was needed.

“I set it up for people who meet state criteria for testing, but who don’t want to wait in line with the state, and they are willing and able to pay for the test. And it takes the burden off the state who can test the people who can’t afford it.”

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He said he would contact the Attorney General’s office and cooperate in any investigation they want to conduct.

“If they believe this is something illegal, then we will stop doing it,” he said. “If we need to shut it down, we’ll shut it down. But we hope we don’t have to. We need to test more people.”

Watch CBS4’s Jim DeFede report

Michel said in the week since it opened the drive through center approximately a thousand people were screened for the virus. He said 125 people tested positive.

This is not the first time that Michel’s has drawn the attention of state investigators or run afoul of a governor.

Michel owned the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills where more than a dozen elderly residents died after the air conditioning went out at the facility during Hurricane Irma. Four employees are facing criminal charges in the case and the facility was ordered closed. Michel has not been charged with any wrongdoing in that case.

Michel said rules outlined by the Florida Department of Health state that individuals who have symptoms, but are not considered to be a priority, can ask a private lab to conduct the test.

The Governor said his intention, as well as the President’s, was that people should not be charged for the test.

“I’m going to ask Attorney General Moody to immediately investigate this hospital for price gouging and I hope if there is a way to hold them accountable that it will,” DeSantis said. “But that is not the way we want people to operate right now.”

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Jim DeFede