In a letter to Sens. Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, AACC laid out a series of recommendations to increase testing capacity for COVID-19 and help prevent a second wave of infections. After the House of Representatives passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act on May 15, it’s now up to the Senate to begin negotiations on what could be the final large fiscal response to the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.
AACC is asking senators to focus on a more integrated testing strategy that increases coordination across all levels of government. “Federal, state, and local agencies must employ shared terminology and have similar understandings of the problems that need to be addressed, specific goals for combating them, and the resources needed to succeed,” the letter says. The association is also underscoring the need for the federal government to ensure that supplies are manufactured and distributed to labs in a timely manner. The letter notes that laboratories and states still have to compete with one another for supplies.
Another issue government should tackle is the expansion of COVID-19 antibody testing, AACC says, as not all serology tests are of the same quality. AACC recommends that the federal government use its oversight authority to certify the quality of antibody tests and ensure adequate reimbursement to guarantee widespread patient access to appropriate testing.
Funding for the nation’s public health infrastructure and healthcare providers is also at the top of the list. The letter notes that federal expenditures for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) remain at fiscal year 2008 levels when adjusted for inflation. “It takes time to hire and train personnel, develop and implement response strategies, and identify and adopt useful reporting measures,” the letter says. “AACC urges additional funding be provided to the CDC to carry out its duties.”
Finally, Congress must act to safeguard the financial solvency of healthcare providers themselves. The association emphasizes that hospitals and commercial laboratories face significant losses of revenue due to the pandemic. While earlier coronavirus response bills gave some support, many providers still are struggling, and some hospitals have reduced the hours of or furloughed clinical laboratory professionals.
HHS Still Working to Distribute Paycheck Protection Program Funds for Testing
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced several ways it will be using certain limited funds for COVID-19 laboratory testing from the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act passed by Congress in April.
Rural health clinics are a special focus. HHS, through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), is providing $225 million to rural health clinics for COVID-19 testing that will support some 4,500 clinics across the country. Rural health clinics are a special designation given to healthcare practices in underserved rural areas by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Each clinic receives up to $50,000.
“The funding may be used for a wide range of COVID-19 testing and related expenses including planning for implementation of a COVID-19 testing program, procuring supplies to provide testing, training providers and staff on COVID-19 testing procedures, and reporting data to HHS on COVID-19 testing activities,” said HRSA Administrator Tom Engels. “Funds may also be used for building or construction of temporary structures, leasing of properties, and retrofitting facilities as necessary to support COVID-19 response.”
States receiving the greatest share of the funds include Texas, Missouri, Kentucky, and California.
HHS is also allocating $250 million for the hospital workforce and virtual healthcare. The money must go toward workforce training, expansion of telemedicine, and procurement of supplies and equipment. In addition to supporting healthcare capacity for COVID-19, the money also goes to the National Special Pathogen System to prepare for future pandemics.