Reps. Sherrill, DelBene, and Sewell Introduce Bill to Encourage Faster COVID Test Results
Incentive structure for labs will create quicker results and improve public health outcomes
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representatives Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11), Suzan DelBene (WA-1), and Terri Sewell (AL-7) today introduced the Strictly Pay for Efficient and Expedited Delivery of Your (SPEEDY) COVID-19 Tests Act, which will encourage commercial testing labs to streamline COVID-19 PCR testing notification operations to help patients get their results sooner. Quicker results will improve the diagnostic value of the tests to patients and reduce spread by ensuring infected individuals know their status and are aware they could infect others.
“There is no good reason for concerned citizens to wait an extended period of time for a COVID-19 test result. Long turn-around times put the public’s health at risk,” said Rep. Sherrill. “Our public and economic health demand quicker COVID results so individuals can know their status and treat their symptoms differently, return to work if they are not sick, increase their vigilance if a positive test results requires quarantine, and let others in the community know if they may have been infected.”
The SPEEDY COVID-19 PCR Tests Act rewards labs that provide swift test results and creates an incentive for underperforming labs to improve their test results times. Currently, labs that process tests are paid a flat rate regardless of how quickly they return results.
“Expanding COVID-19 testing capacity is only helpful if we can get results back quickly. Every day someone is forced to wait, the outcome loses its clinical value,” said Rep. DelBene. “This bill will incentivize faster results rather than backlogging tests for days, which will allow people to know their status and provide public health officials a better understanding of the virus in their communities. The federal government shouldn’t be paying for what is essentially useless information when our country is in such a crisis. Our frontline workers like nurses, grocery workers, teachers, flight attendants, and restaurant staff would all be made safer by faster test results.”
This bill adjusts Medicare reimbursement rates depending on how quickly labs provide results. Labs that return results within 24 hours receive a 25 percent increase in the Medicare reimbursement rate. Those that provide results within 48 hours will receive the standard Medicare rate, and those that return results in a slower timeframe will receive less funding for the tests. Labs will receive no reimbursement for tests returned after 72 hours.
“As this public health crisis continues to threaten the lives and livelihoods of those across this country, efficiency in the way Americans are tested for COVID-19 is sorely needed,” said Rep. Sewell. “Streamlining the testing process will not only allow my constituents to receive their results faster, but it will also ensure that if they are infected, they can take the necessary precautions to help contain the spread of the disease before it’s too late.”
The bill also includes safeguards to prevent manipulation. To ensure labs do not discard tests they cannot complete within 72 hours, the bill requires labs to complete any test they receive within 28 days or lose the ability to be reimbursed by Medicaid. The legislation also provides an additional 36 hours per category for labs serving rural or medically underserved areas.
Public health experts agree that faster test results are essential to both slowing the spread of COVID-19 and getting the economy back on track. Slower results make contract tracing more difficult and force individuals exposed to the virus with no symptoms to quarantine until they receive negative results. The slower labs deliver positive results, the longer it takes to begin tracing an infected individual’s contacts. The quicker labs deliver negative results, the quicker those individuals can return to essential jobs. The longer it takes to return tests, the larger the backlog grows, and the longer we postpone the swift, widespread testing epidemiologists recommend.