Widespread, comprehensive testing critical to addressing the COVID-19 crisis and restoring economic activity
Widespread testing to safely reopen the country and to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus is sorely needed. Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies believe individuals must be assured access to testing for COVID-19 — and that access should not be dependent on someone’s ability to pay.
In support of this goal, BCBS companies are covering testing related to diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 at zero cost-sharing for members. Yet the scope, severity and the duration of this outbreak are still unknown, and all indicators show the pandemic is not abating quickly.
It’s vital to understand the enormity of the public health endeavor needed and how best to provide the necessary funds to secure Americans’ health and well-being
The magnitude of the challenge is great
An analysis by the Harvard Global Health Institute and NPR indicates that 1.2 million tests per day are required for mitigation, but substantially more are required for suppression of the virus—4.3 million tests per day.
Pair this analysis with an estimate from Ellis Health Policy, which found the anticipated costs for pool testing—that is, tests done in batches to determine if anyone in a given group is infected—would be $103 billion per year if 40 percent of testing is done with a pooled approach. This estimate does not account for the costs associated with other critical functions, such as contact tracing and surveillance.
These two findings alone indicate that even to maintain our country’s current level of testing—which experts believe is not enough to suppress the pandemic—additional funds will be needed.
Defining the purpose of testing
It is important to distinguish testing for diagnosis and treatment purposes from the broader population and occupational health testing that will be needed by millions of Americans who show no signs or symptoms of the virus, but may still be infected and risk spreading COVID-19. Without a better idea of who and where these asymptomatic spreaders are, there is no safe way to fully reopen.
Recently three federal agencies—the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of the Treasury—issued joint guidance saying health insurers are responsible for diagnostic testing costs for tests deemed medically necessary by a medical provider, both for individuals who are experiencing symptoms and for asymptomatic individuals with known or suspected recent exposure to the coronavirus.
Broad coalition urges swift action on robust testing and federal funding
Diagnostic testing on a case-by-case basis is simply not enough. Demand for testing is increasing, and this demand will continue to increase as millions of Americans seek testing to facilitate a return to work, school and other activities. Without federal funding, Americans will only see a reduction in access to testing, as well as disruptions in clinician, hospital and laboratory payments, diminished public health surveillance capacity, and higher premiums.
The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association has joined with patient advocates, physician groups, employers, leading public health institutions and others in urging Congress to prioritize robust federal funding for the critical testing needed to reopen the country. Swift action is needed to ensure that every American, especially essential workers, frontline health care physicians and other clinicians, and those at disproportionate risk for COVID-19 have access to vital testing, whether for diagnostic, occupational, return-to-school, public health or virus monitoring purposes.
The public health testing effort must be a national priority, federally funded and locally administered as it will likely include tens of millions of Americans who have no signs or symptoms of the coronavirus to help reopen the country.
- See our joint letter urging federal funding for testing in the next COVID-19 package.
- Read the joint AHIP-BCBSA recommendations for the next congressional COVID legislation.
- See our recommendations on how Congress can help American maintain coverage and access care
- Read why Congress should protect Medicaid to protect health.