Price Tag for Testing All Nursing Home Residents, Staff for COVID-19 Once: $440 Million

The nation’s largest organization representing nursing homes on Wednesday pegged the one-time cost of testing each resident and staff member in the United States at $440 million, arguing that substantially more funding for long-term care will be necessary to meet more stringent testing mandates.

The American Health Care Association arrived at that figure by adding up the more than 1.3 million nursing home residents and 1.6 million staffers across the country, then multiplying by an average per-test cost of $150 apiece.

That number also does not include residents and workers at other types of senior living and care facilities, such as assisted living and memory care properties, AHCA observed.

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There’s no one standard price for individual tests, but the cost for a single polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test can run anywhere from $100 to $175, according to Christopher Laxton, executive director of AMDA — The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) offers a reimbursement of $100 per test through the Medicare program for labs with certain high-throughput diagnostic capabilities.

AHCA, which represents more than 13,000 for-profit nursing homes across the country, asserted that its estimates illustrate a dire need for additional funding from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), calling the ongoing testing costs “unsustainable.”

“For months now, we have been advocating for expanded and priority testing in nursing homes to protect our residents and caregivers, but this is a significant undertaking and cost for nursing homes to shoulder on their own,” AHCA CEO Mark Parkinson said in a statement. “That’s why we have asked HHS to grant our request for a $10 billion emergency relief to help fund expedited testing and the additional staffing needed to respond to this unprecedented health crisis.”

HHS and CMS have distributed some relief funds from the CARES Act stimulus package for nursing homes, but it has been based solely on prior years’ Medicare reimbursements — and since nursing homes rely on state-level Medicaid payments to serve long-term residents, the federal efforts have left many providers out in the cold.

While nursing homes in many states have already tested significant numbers of residents and staff, access has been far from universal. In addition, CMS’s recently announced plan to lift visitation restrictions at nursing homes requires operators to perform a baseline test of all residents and staff, then ensure that no further infections occur over an extended period of time.

In announcing the new rules, CMS administrator Seema Verma also unveiled a formal federal recommendation to test all staff members once per week; that edict alone will cost operators $1 billion per month by AHCA’s reckoning.

Individual states have also implemented even stricter mandates: In New York, for instance, operators must test all staff members twice per week, though the early days of that mandate have revealed issues with testing access and labs’ ability to quickly process results.

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