This congressperson needs to ramp up COVID-19 testing

Doctor in protection gloves examining & organising test kit for COVID-19 in laboratory.

Enlarge / Physician in safety gloves inspecting & organising take a look at package for COVID-19 in laboratory. (credit score: Tang Ming Tung | Getty Pictures)

The US’s COVID testing failure has unfurled in phases. First, there weren’t near sufficient checks, due to cascading coverage failures and provide chain points. As soon as the availability downside step by step got here below management, it was changed by processing backlogs: As circumstances soared over the summer season, many individuals had been having to attend every week or extra to get outcomes again. A nationwide survey in August discovered that solely 37 p.c of individuals receiving nasal swab checks had been getting outcomes again within the two-day window mandatory for efficient contract tracing, whereas practically a 3rd of checks had been taking longer than 4 days. This delay meant that, as Invoice Gates colorfully instructed WIRED’s Steven Levy in August, “The vast majority of all US checks are fully rubbish.” The basis of the issue, Gates mentioned, was that the federal reimbursement price for the labs that course of COVID checks is similar no matter how lengthy the outcomes take. Change that, he argued, and the labs processing checks “will repair it in a single day.”

A brand new Home invoice would goal to make Gates’ concept actuality. On Thursday, Mikie Sherrill, a freshman congressperson from New Jersey, launched the SPEEDY Act, which might tie federal reimbursement to check outcome speeds. (The complete identify is the “Strictly Pay for Environment friendly and Expedited Supply of Your (SPEEDY) COVID-19 Take a look at Act.”) On the outset of the pandemic, the federal government was paying about $51 per take a look at for folks lined by federal well being plans. (The typical marginal value of an ordinary PCR take a look at varies, however at a high-volume lab it runs at about $40.) To encourage labs to extend capability, the Facilities for Medicare and Medicaid Providers (CMS) raised that to $100 in April. Underneath the SPEEDY Act, checks that ship ends in 24 hours could be rewarded with $125; inside 48 hours, the present $100 price would apply; and for outcomes inside 72 hours, labs would return to the pre-April reimbursement. The federal government wouldn’t pay in any respect for outcomes that come again after 72 hours. (To keep away from having labs simply quit on checks after that window closes, the regulation would require them to nonetheless course of the checks as a way to take part in Medicare.)

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