CARES Act Expiration Threatens Oklahoma Coronavirus Testing And Pandemic Response | KGOU

CARES Act Expiration Threatens Oklahoma Coronavirus Testing And Pandemic Response

Nov 10, 2020

Without congressional action, Oklahoma’s coronavirus testing could soon dwindle.


Congress passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, otherwise known as the CARES Act, this spring. It included funding for coronavirus testing, and state officials have used that to ensure all Oklahomans can get free testing without restrictions through county health departments. Private testing, usually conducted at a medical facility and covered by insurance, can have several requirements. For example, many won’t cover the cost of the test unless the person has symptoms.

CARES funding expires Dec. 31. Commissioner of Health Lance Frye said in a media availability Monday this could severely hamper the state’s testing capacity.

There’s a difference in mission. Insurance companies are responsible only for their own members. For their purposes, tests are necessary to determine whether members will need treatment for COVID-19. On the other hand, a public health agency uses testing as a tool called surveillance to assess spread in a community. Testing on a broader scale helps fight spread.

“We want to test people, whether they’re symptomatic or not,” Frye said during the availability. “We want to know — have a good idea — what’s going on in our communities and try to catch asymptomatic people early.”

Frye said he hopes that members of Congress understand their own actions could undermine the state’s response.

“I just want us all to realize that there’s a transition that’s going to occur unless there’s funding set aside for that. That really will affect our ability to respond,” he said.

Additionally, Oklahoma ranks second in the nation for its uninsured rate. About 14.2 percent of Oklahomans — about 500,000 people — didn’t have health insurance in 2019, according to United Health Foundation’s latest annual America’s Health Rankings report. The people least likely to have insurance are the kind of low-wage workers who are most likely to contract COVID-19.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership of Oklahoma’s public radio stations which relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.