Focus On

The Next Round of COVID-19 Legislation: What It Will Take to Prevent a Second Outbreak?

The next wave of federal COVID-19 relief legislation is in the works and the lab industry is doing its level best to ensure that it includes the necessary support for lab testing that the previously laws failed to deliver.

HEROES & Villains

On May 15, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, a new $3 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill. In addition to $75 billion to support diagnostic testing and contact tracing activities to monitor and suppress the COVID-19 virus, the HEROES Act would:

  • Eliminate deductibles, copayments and other cost sharing for COVID-19 treatment (the way previous legislation did for COVID-19 testing);
  • Provide $1 trillion to state and local governments;
  • Expand family and medical leave and unemployment compensation;
  • Establish a fund to give essential workers hazard pay; and
  • Provide additional direct payments up to $1,200 per person.

But the HEROES Act faces an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled Senate, at least according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who has described the bill as a “big laundry list of pet priorities” that has “no chance of becoming law.” The latter phrase is backed up by the fact that President Trump has promised to veto it in the highly unlikely prospect that it squeaks through the Senate and reaches his desk.

The AACC’s 5 Recommendations

On May 26, the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC), a global scientific and medical professional organization dedicated to clinical laboratory science and its application to healthcare, sent a letter to Senate leadership expressing the urgency that any new COVID-19 legislation include measures to improve SARS-CoV-2 testing capacity. AACC president Carmen Wiley presented five recommendations the organization contends are necessary to prevent a second wave of the pandemic.

  1. Integrated Testing Strategy

According to the AACC, HHS should take the lead in working together with Congress and other government stakeholders to develop an integrated COVID-19 testing strategy that:

  • Establishes a common terminology;
  • Identifies current challenges and necessary resources to overcome them;
  • Lays out a plan for acquiring and distributing needed materials; and
  • Creates benchmarks and timelines for measuring progress.
  1. Improve Supply Chain Coordination

AACC recommends that the federal government get involved to eliminate persisting testing supply shortages by creating a mechanism for labs and healthcare facilities to regularly report current inventory levels. The government would then use that data to identify need and allocate resources to facilities accordingly.

  1. Strengthen Public Health Infrastructure

AACC believes that Congress should provide funding enabling the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to rebuild the public health infrastructure and oversee COVID-19 state and federal surveillance activities, including testing capacity, the rate of transmission, where the virus is spiking and falling, and contact tracing.

  1. Expansion of COVID-19 Serological Testing

The AACC says the federal government should take steps to facilitate widespread patient access to accurate antibody testing by not only certifying the quality of serological SARS-CoV-2 antibody tests but also ensuring that labs that provide them are fairly reimbursed.

  1. Safeguard Financial Solvency of Healthcare Providers

Finally, the AACC calls on the federal government to continue to provide financial assistance enabling commercial labs, hospitals and other healthcare facilities to survive the massive financial losses they’re experiencing as a result of declining demands for medical services during the pandemic. The $100 billion in assistance provided by the first round of COVID-19 relief legislation, specifically the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, while helpful, wasn’t enough to help hospitals and labs avoid layoffs, furloughs and hours reductions of lab technologists and other skilled testing personnel.

Takeaway

The CARES Act and other federal COVID-19 relief legislation was a good start. And since the pandemic began, the labs and the rest of the healthcare industry has made significant progress in expanding testing capacity, reducing the time to obtain results and improving test accuracy. However, as the AACC notes, “there is still much to do.” The U.S. still remains a long way from achieving the capacity to perform the widespread testing that would be necessary to prevent a new wave of COVID-19 cases. And as states begin to gradually peel back their social distancing restrictions, the lack of testing capacity is of serious concern and will be resolved only if the federal government implements fundamental and systematic change.

 

 


(-00000g2)