U.S. to Boost Payment for Abbott’s Covid-19 Test to Increase Use

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The U.S. government will nearly double the amount it pays hospitals and medical centers to runAbbott Laboratories’ large-scale coronavirus tests, an incentive to get the facilities to hire more technicians and expand testing that has fallen significantly short of the machines’ potential.

Abbott’s m2000 machines, which can process up to 1 million tests per week, haven’t been fully used because not enough technicians have been hired to run them, according to a person familiar with the matter. Members of the White House’s coronavirus task force talked with lab directors on several occasions last week to determine what was causing the holdup, after Deborah Birx, a top State Department health official, said they were running at less than 10% of their capacity.

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The reasons behind the delay were inexcusable to Birx and Seema Verma, head of theCenters for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the person, who declined to be identified because the information isn’t public. The two officials acted quickly over the weekend to address the issue, and raised the amount CMS pays to $100 per test, up from about $51, the person said.

The U.S. has faced repeated problems and failures with diagnostic tests as the country now at the center of the pandemic attempts to identify patients and isolate them. Health workers and officials have cited long delays in getting results, as well as limited availability of tests from multiple sources.

Another issue causing delays with the Abbott machines involves a shortage of essential components needed to run the tests, according to theAssociation of American Medical Colleges, which represents the academic medicine community that owns many of the 175 Abbott machines across the country.

Supply Shortage

A lack of reagents, swabs, personal protective gear and specialized equipment have severely hampered testing capacity, according to an April 13 letter to Birx from AAMC Chief Executive Officer David Skorton.

“The inability to secure adequate quantities of any of these components will result in lower testing capacity,” Skorton said. “The absence of certain components could result in testing machines sitting unused.”

In some cases, labs trying to purchase parts, reagents and test cartridges to determine if patients have Covid-19 have been unable to do so, as they have been told that the federal government or other laboratories have a higher priority, the letter said.

The group asked that the federal government take a stronger role in managing the testing situation across the country, including creating a system to report supply shortages and helping manage the supply chain for those components.

Abbott said it has a consistent supply of reagents, the chemicals used to perform the laboratory tests.

— With assistance by Josh Wingrove, and Jeannie Baumann

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