Reps. Lee, Schakowsky, Colleagues Urge Administration to Prioritize Coronavirus Testing in Nursing Homes

May 5, 2020
Press Release

Las Vegas, Nev.- U.S. Rep. Susie Lee (Nev.-03) and 87 of her colleagues, led by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.-09), sent a letter, dated May 4, to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma, asking them to allocate a portion of the $25 billion in funding for COVID-19 testing provided by Congress as part of the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (the Act) to enhance diagnostic testing at long-term care facilities.

“Diagnostic testing remains one of the most essential tools we can utilize to contain COVID-19 and prevent future spikes,” the members wrote.

On April 15, Reps. Lee, Schakowsky, and 76 House Democrats urged HHS and CMS to immediately begin collecting and publicly reporting data on COVID-19 cases and fatalities in long-term care; though CMS announced they would do so on April 19, they have yet to begin implementation. Information from media outlets report that at least 16,000 nursing home residents in the U.S. have died from COVID-19 to date. Despite this, two-thirds of the nation’s 15,600 nursing homes still struggle to access enough tests.

“Inadequate testing has allowed the coronavirus to silently infect thousands in long-term care facilities,” the members wrote. “Of the long-term care residents who have been tested and tested positive for COVID-19, 70 percent were asymptomatic or did not display obvious symptoms. Therefore, separation of residents based on infection status, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cannot be successfully accomplished without testing.”

Rep. Lee and her colleagues urged HHS and CMS to ensure states receiving federal funding for testing have a plan to prioritize long-term care facilities: “$6.25 billion were…allocated to states, localities, and territories for necessary expenses to develop, purchase, administer, process, and analyze COVID-19 tests. We urge you to direct states to prioritize long-term care facilities in any guidance you may offer to them as you distribute this funding.”

The members continued, “Under the Act, each state is required to submit its plan for testing to HHS within the next month, including number of tests needed, month-by-month estimates of capacity, and a description of how the state, locality, territory, tribe, or tribal organization will use its resources for testing. These plans must offer a strategy to surge tests to nursing homes and long-term care facilities as soon as possible. We ask you to stringently assess whether each state has adequately prioritized 'senior and other congregate living settings' within their plan, as recommended by the White House’s Testing Blueprint.”

The letter closes by urging HHS and CMS to protect “older Americans, individuals with disabilities, veterans, and all those living in nursing homes and congregate living settings, alongside the dedicated workers who care for them” by ensuring adequate funding is directed to testing in long-term care facilities.

A signed copy of the letter is available HERE.