- HHS on Tuesday said it will spend $4.8 billion from President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan to support COVID-19 testing for the uninsured, in a push to improve access to preventive measures in vulnerable communities.
- The funds will be used to reimburse healthcare providers who perform tests through the Health Resources and Services Administration's COVID-19 program for the uninsured. The funding commitment tops the nearly $4 billion issued so far through the program, as of last week, to reimburse providers for testing of the uninsured during the pandemic.
- The American Clinical Laboratory Association, a trade group whose members include LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics, had urged the Biden administration in February to make more money available to test uninsured people for the virus.
The new funding is a slice of Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan approved in March. The economic stimulus package has helped spur a surge in enrollment in Affordable Care Act plans during a special signup period now underway and also provides relief for rural hospitals hit hard by the pandemic, Medicaid expansion incentives for states, and coverage of COBRA premiums for unemployed workers.
HHS' announcement of additional money for COVID-19 tests for uninsured individuals is part of the administration's broader strategy to increase testing, alongside vaccinations, as a preventive tool for curbing the spread of the virus.
"Testing remains critical, and now it’s available at no cost to those who need it,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.
The Biden administration also designated more than $10 billion from the rescue plan in March to ramp up COVID-19 testing in schools as they reopen classrooms and another $2.25 billion to scale up testing in underserved populations.
About 29 million people in the U.S. do not have health insurance, according to HHS. The ACLA, which had pushed for increased funding for the uninsured, said the HHS announcement of new money for testing will encourage more Americans to access COVID-19 tests without hesitation due to uncertainty about coverage and costs.
The trade group in February said its members had seen health plans deny more than 1 million COVID-19 PCR tests. Health insurers and labs have clashed over gaps in coverage and rising test prices, and some states have opted out of covering uninsured testing under Medicaid.
The HRSA program reimburses providers at national Medicare rates for delivering services such as COVID-19 treatment and vaccinations to the uninsured. As of May 19, the program had paid over $2.5 billion toward reimbursing providers for COVID-19 treatment and over $85 million for vaccinating the uninsured, HHS said.