AACC Urges Biden to Work With Lab Community on SARS-CoV-2 Testing

In a letter to President Biden’s Coronavirus Advisory Board, AACC is calling on the Biden administration to collaborate closely with laboratory medicine professionals and to give the federal government a stronger role in helping laboratories respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

AACC outlines four key areas the Biden administration should act on, beginning with manufacturing and distribution of laboratory supplies. In a survey of laboratories in September, AACC found that 57% of respondents reported ongoing problems obtaining supplies needed to perform coronavirus diagnostic testing. Nearly 70% of the laboratories said they cannot obtain needed test kits and reagents, and 36% cannot get the swabs needed to collect specimens.

Second, AACC is asking the Biden administration to repeal a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) decision to tie lab payments to turnaround time. “Many laboratories are completing their testing within the timeframe specified by CMS,” the letter says. “For those laboratories not meeting this timeframe, it is often for reasons outside of their control.”

Third, AACC is calling on the Biden administration and Congress to work together to rebuild public health infrastructure, noting that federal expenditures for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when adjusted for inflation, remain at fiscal year 2008 levels.

Finally, AACC urges the Biden administration to include a laboratory professional on the administration’s Coronavirus Advisory Board. “A laboratory expert on the Board can suggest strategies for expanding access to testing in the face of surging coronavirus cases,” the letter says.

CMS Releases 2019 Healthcare Cost Data

Data from the Office of the Actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services shows that before the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. healthcare spending was growing at a moderate pace of 4.6%, and that a suspension of the health insurance tax—a major tax under the Affordable Care Act that Congress repealed in its December 2020 spending bill—played a significant role in slowing the growth of private health insurance costs.

Overall, national healthcare spending in 2019 grew 4.6%, which was similar to the 4.7% growth in 2018 and the average annual growth since 2016 of 4.5%. While personal healthcare spending rose somewhat faster—5.2% in 2019 versus a 4.1% increase in 2018—the net cost of health insurance declined by 3.8% because of the tax suspension.

Notwithstanding these moderating factors to overall healthcare spending, Medicare spending continues to grow at a significantly higher pace, increasing by 6.7% to reach $799.4 billion in 2019, faster than the 6.3% rise in 2018 and despite enrollment growth holding steady.

Report: Hospital Expenses Climb as Revenue Falls

Hospitals face rising expenses and falling revenue as COVID-19 continues to stretch healthcare business models, according to a report by Kaufman Hall. The report found that revenues and volumes were down across most metrics, yet inpatient volumes rose as the number of patients hospitalized with coronavirus infections doubled in December.

The report underscores the importance of federal funding. Hospitals’ median operating margin was -1.1% year-to-date based on November data with federal funding not included, a 11.6% decline compared to 2019. With CARES act funding, the median operating margin was 2.5%, still down 8.3% year-over-year.

The additional relief bill Congress passed in September adds $3 billion to the government’s Provider Relief Fund. As of December, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had distributed about $125 billion of the $175 billion allocated under the CARES act.