A bipartisan group of 30 members of Congress is urging Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to use some of the $25 billion earmarked for COVID-19 testing in the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund (PHSSEF) to support clinical laboratories.
In a letter sent Monday, the lawmakers argue the investments laboratories are making to scale up COVID-19 testing, at a time when volumes of other tests are falling, means they need more targeted financial support.
- The American Clinical Laboratory Association, which called for extra support in April, backed the proposal on the grounds that “clinical laboratories need dedicated funding to plan for challenges that lie ahead.”
U.S laboratories are scaling up quickly to meet demand for COVID-19 tests. A survey run by the Association for Molecular Pathology a little over a month ago found 42% of commercial laboratories plan to be able to process more than 2,000 tests a day. At the time of the survey, 14% of commercial laboratories could handle such volumes.
Soaring demand for COVID-19 diagnostics and serologic assays is driving the expansions. The extra capacity may still fall short of demand, with analysts at Jefferies calculating the U.S. needs to increase throughput by 10 times to safely get people back to work.
Adding the capacity is costly to labs and ACLA wants the U.S. government to do more to support the expansion. ACLA, whose members include LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics, met with Azar in April and followed up with a letter to “urge HHS to allocate the necessary resources for our nation’s laboratories to increase COVID-19 testing capacity.”
Now, 30 lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have backed ACLA’s push for HHS to provide more money. The request centers on the deployment of the $25 billion made available through the recent PHSSEF.
While the lawmakers acknowledge the act includes “$11 billion for states, localities, territories and tribes to enhance all aspects of COVID-19 testing capacity,” they also state “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.”
Specifically, letter signees want Azar to distribute some of the funding for testing directly to clinical laboratories. In doing so, the lawmakers think HHS can “promote widespread access to testing and support the ongoing efforts at the state and federal level to reopen the country.”