This is a bad time to be a clinical lab in the U.S. Although a recovery seems to be in the works, the pandemic has drastically reduced testing for just about anything and everything other than COVID-19 over the past three months. And while COVID-19 testing volume is unprecedented, the modest reimbursements it generates aren’t nearly enough to offset the losses in other testing segments. Meanwhile, even as COVID-19 relief dollars flow freely, the labs aren’t getting anything close to what they need to meet COVID-19 testing demand or even stay in business. A Congressional Call for Help
The good news is that at least some of the people in positions of power get it, including the 30 members of the U.S. House of Representatives from both parties that sent a letter
urging HHS Secretary Alex Azar to direct federal funds to support clinical labs during the pandemic. The June 1 letter calls on Azar to “distribute a portion of the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund (PHSSEF) funding appropriated by Congress for testing that has not otherwise been allocated directly to clinical laboratories” to enable them to expand their SARS-CoV-2 testing capacity and meet the unprecedented demand for COVID-19 testing. The “allocated” and “appropriated” references are Congress-speak for the $25 billion directed to the PHSSEF as part of the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (PPPHCE Act). That money includes $11 billion for states, localities, territories and tribes to enhance COVID-19 testing capacity. And those dollars are in addition to the funds already appropriated to the PHSSEF under the CARES Act. The good news is that labs are eligible for these funds; the bad news is that the federal government hasn’t specifically designated for labs. Rather than the recognition and support for their heroic role in stepping up during the public health emergency, the testing labs have been left to compete for federal assistance with other recipients. What the Letter Recommends
The bipartisan group of representatives is urging HHS to direct a portion of the funding not already allocated to labs so that they can work to maintain their investments in critical resources for testing platforms, reagents, swabs and PPE, as well as for hiring, training and providing overtime pay to lab staffers. “These funds will ensure that labs can continue to rapidly scale up diagnostic and antibody testing, particularly for healthcare workers, first responders, and other Americans on the frontlines of this pandemic – and ultimately for all citizens to be able to return to school, work, and the activities they enjoy,” the letter notes. Takeaway This isn’t the first time Secretary Azar has found a letter like this in his inbox. On April 29, American Clinical Laboratory Association President Julie Khani sent Azar a letter asking HHS to allocate $10 billion from the PHSSEF to support expanded testing capacity for both diagnostic and serologic tests.