Employer Groups Encourage Federal Funding, Support for COVID-19 Testing

In a July 21 letter to Congress, employer and health care purchaser groups called on lawmakers to include federal testing assistance in the next comprehensive bill to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter comes as Senate Republicans prepare to unveil a $1 trillion-plus coronavirus relief package this week. House Democrats passed a $3.5 trillion aid bill in May (HR 6800)that would direct substantial resources to increased COVID-19 testing. 

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires group health plans to cover testing for the diagnosis of COVID-19 without cost-sharing or medical management requirements, but the widespread testing also needed for public health surveillance to effectively combat the virus – especially as the case numbers rise, and to facilitate returning employees to the workplace safely – is likely to be extensive.

“While employers understand their key role in the national response, the sheer scale of testing (and contact tracing) required to meet the broader public health surveillance and return to work objectives nationwide means that the responsibility cannot be borne by employers alone,” the letter stated. “Indeed, the employers that will incur the greatest challenges associated with widespread testing in order to bring employees back to the workplace, are among the enterprises that have been hardest hit by the economic consequences of the pandemic.”

The joint letter calls on Congress:

  • Invest additional federal resources in the robust testing needed to accomplish both the public health and economic goals.
  • Ensure that employers and taxpayers are not subject to opaque and exorbitant prices for COVID-19 tests and associated services.
  • Ensure that testing is accurate, reliable and timely. 
  • Provide clear guidance help inform employers’ utilization of COVID-19 testing in their return to work strategies, while preserving employer flexibility in developing programs appropriate for their particular location, workforce and industry. 

Senate Republicans will propose to invest an extra $25 billion in COVID-19 testing, although the White House wants to spend less. The government has relied on private insurance to fund most of the country's testing, but last month CMS released guidance that allows insurers to decline to cover tests for back-to-work programs, without announcing an alternative funding strategy.

As Republicans work to resolve their disagreements, the really tough slog lies ahead in negotiations with Democrats on passing a final package that the president will sign before federal jobless benefits expire on July 31.

 

Geoff Manville
by Geoff Manville

Principal, Mercer’s Law & Policy Group

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