US Representatives want clinical laboratories to have better support for their increased efforts to expand testing for the coronavirus
On June 8, Congressmen Tom Reed (NY-23), Scott Peters (CA-52), and 28 other members of the US House of Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar requesting that funds from the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (H.R.266) be sent directly to clinical laboratories that have heavily invested in increasing their COVID-19 testing capacity.
In their letter, the Representatives wrote, “As you are aware, the recently enacted Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (PPPHCE Act) invests $25 billion in the [Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund (PHSSEF)], including $11 billion for states, localities, territories, and tribes, to enhance all aspects of COVID-19 testing capacity. This funding is in addition to the funds already appropriated to the PHSSEF under the CARES Act.
“While laboratories are eligible, along with other providers, for these funds,” they continued, “there have been no federal funds specifically designated for the laboratories that have stepped up in this public health crisis and have made significant investments to expand access to COVID-19 testing despite 40-60 percent reductions in regular commercial volume due to the economic lockdowns.
“As laboratories work to maintain their investments in critical resources for testing platforms, reagents, swabs, and PPE, as well as hiring, training, and overtime pay for the laboratory workforce, we urge HHS to direct a portion of funding that has not already been allocated towards these efforts. 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,” concluded the Representatives.
ACLA President Made Similar Plea for Direct Funding to Clinical Laboratories
As Dark Daily reported in “Federal Government Is Sending Nearly $11 Billion to States for COVID-19 Clinical Laboratory Testing and Testing-Related Activities,” in April, Julie Khani, President of the American Clinical Laboratory Association (ACLA), sent a similar letter to Azar urging the HHS to provide some of the stimulus money directly to clinical laboratories.
“In order to deliver accurate, reliable results for patients at a national scale, we must allocate funding to support [clinical laboratories’] expanded efforts,” she said in a statement following an April 27 meeting at the White House.
In her letter, Khani wrote, “It is essential that HHS allocate $10 billion from the fund to support labs’ further expansion of testing capacity to fulfill the testing needs of all of the states and to protect the lives and livelihood of all Americans.
“Further,” she continued, “HHS should note that investing in the nation’s laboratories will not only enhance testing capacity in the short-term, but it also will allow the country to benefit from a robust testing infrastructure for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.”
President Trump signed H.R.266 into law on April 24. It includes $25 billion earmarked for research, development, validation, manufacturing, purchasing, administering, and expanding capacity for COVID-19 testing. According to the language of H.R.266, that includes, “tests for both active infection and prior exposure, including molecular, antigen, and serological tests, the manufacturing, procurement and distribution of tests, testing equipment and testing supplies, including personal protective equipment needed for administering tests, the development and validation of rapid, molecular point-of-care tests, and other tests, support for workforce, epidemiology, to scale up academic, commercial, public health, and hospital laboratories, to conduct surveillance and contact tracing, support development of COVID-19 testing plans, and other related activities related to COVID-19 testing.”
Financial Struggles for Hospitals and Clinical Laboratories
This new round of stimulus funding comes at a time when many providers and clinical laboratories are struggling financially, despite the influx of COVID-19 patients.
“Across the country, laboratories have made significant investments to expand capacity, including purchasing new platforms, retraining staff, and managing the skyrocketing cost of supplies. To continue to make these investments and expand patient access to high-quality testing in every community, laboratories will need designated resources. Without sustainable funding, we cannot achieve sustainable testing,” said Khani in an ACLA statement.
As the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic evolves, federal regulations, as well as emergency funding for COVID-19 testing that is provided by federal legislation, will evolve in unexpected ways. For that reason, clinical laboratory leaders will want to closely track announcements by such federal agencies as the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Federal Emergency Management Administration as decisions are made about how to assign the $25 billion authorized in H.R.266 for “testing.”