By Mary R. Grealy
August 21, 2020 at 5:00 am ET
A return to normalcy for American families starts with robust access to COVID-19 testing for employees, especially those in high-risk jobs. But while there’s widespread agreement that more testing is needed, there is currently no mechanism in place to guarantee federal coverage for return-to-work purposes. As federal policymakers seek common ground on the COVID-19 relief package, American workers should know that COVID-19 testing will be readily accessible and available as part of employers’ efforts to safely return to the office. This, however, can only be accomplished by establishing a robust public testing fund to support the level of testing that will be needed to keep employees and their families safe.
The Healthcare Leadership Council and nearly 50 other leading employer, public health, consumer and provider groups — including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, Business Group on Health, National Association of Manufacturers, National Retail Federation and the National Consumers League — recently pressed congressional leadership to prioritize critical funding for expanded testing for essential health care workers and employees.
Without such funding, Americans will only see a reduction in access, diminished public health surveillance capacity and higher insurance premiums. At a time when COVID-19 cases continue to rise, it is imperative that Congress put its weight behind strengthening our testing resources, particularly for American workers putting their lives on the line for their jobs, their families and the American public.
While there has been significant federal investment in helping states ramp up testing, small and large employers have received scant financial support to cover the full scope of sustained testing plans that will be required to protect essential employees and customers. The cost burden imposed by testing and reopening safely is untenable for many small employers who are looking to get back to business and help restart local economies. A recent analysis from researchers at the Urban Institute and Georgetown University estimated that if essential workers in critical job functions – agriculture, home health, child day care, residential care facilities and nursing homes, grocery stores and many more – were tested once a week, the expected cost per worker would exceed $5,000 for the year and cause health insurance premiums to increase by roughly 70 percent. This dramatic increase in costs – without federal support – would be borne largely by employers.
After many months of economic turmoil, American workers and their families can’t take another financial hit from COVID-19. It’s time for Congress to take urgent and immediate action by establishing a dedicated federal fund that can guarantee sustained access to testing for essential employees and front-line workers. Public funding for testing is imperative to meet the clear policy goals set out in the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act, which guaranteed all Americans would have access to COVID-19 testing without cost barriers.
The federal government has a compelling interest in making sure employers deliver the level of testing that is needed. It is imperative that Congress make the sustained financial commitment that is required to achieve that promise. Policymakers cannot delay any further – now is the time to pass the funding that is needed to protect American workers.
Mary R. Grealy is the president of the Healthcare Leadership Council, the only health policy advocacy group that represents all sectors of the health care industry, which advocates for consumer-centered health care reform and emphasizes the value of private sector innovation.
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