Ms. Sussman, 51, took her whole family to get tested, and the results came back negative.
Then the paperwork came: $6,816 had been charged to insurance for four coronavirus tests. Ms. Sussman’s fees alone were $1,944.
She started looking through the itemized costs. One insurance claim showed that she had been tested for a dozen respiratory diseases. She found that odd; the town emails advertised only a coronavirus test. There was also a surprise $480 charge for a short phone call relaying her results.
“That’s when I realized something was wrong,” Ms. Sussman said. “When in the history of medical appointments does it ever cost to get a phone call giving you your test results?”
Cities and towns gave Dr. Murphy free access to public property and rented tents on his behalf. One city provided internet hot spots. Bedford, where Ms. Sussman lives, recruited volunteers to assist Dr. Murphy with his work and arranged for residents to donate lunches.
Dr. Murphy committed to not billing patients directly but retained control over how he would examine patients and what he would charge health insurers.
Billing documents show that Dr. Murphy did not test patients just for coronavirus. He routinely billed insurers for a large panel test for at least 20 respiratory pathogens, including rhinovirus and enterovirus.
Medical experts said Dr. Murphy’s testing and billing practices were out of line with current standards.
Offering one large panel when looking for the virus “is unusual and, in my opinion, inappropriate,” said Dr. Alexander McAdam, director of the infectious disease laboratories at Boston Children’s Hospital. “That panel should only be used for the critically ill or immuno-compromised, so we don’t over-test and generate too large of a bill for our patients.”