Cost the biggest barrier to widespread coronavirus testing, survey finds

Companies most often cited the cost of COVID-19 testing as the primary reason they weren't testing their workers, rather than test availability or turnaround times, The New York Times reported. 

In a survey conducted by Arizona State University and the World Economic Forum, with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, companies most frequently cited cost and complexity as the biggest deterrent to testing. The survey included responses from more than 1,100 companies worldwide and was conducted from September to late October. 

Of those surveyed, 17 percent of companies said they were testing their workers. Half of those said they were doing so for asymptomatic workers, and half said they were testing workers at least once a week. 

At companies that aren't testing their employees, 15 percent cited availability as the primary issue, while 28 percent cited cost, and 22 percent cited complexity. Sixteen percent said it would take too long to get test results, the Times reported. 

Raj Behal, MD, chief quality officer at San Francisco-based One Medical, a primary care provider for large employers such as Google, told the Times that the lack of inexpensive tests had played a major role in limiting uptake.

"In our experience, companies that need to bring their employees in because they are essential or critical workers are regularly screening and testing employees for COVID-19," said Dr. Behal. "In general, though, cost may be the single most important barrier to widespread testing in the U.S."

PCR tests, which are the most accurate, cost about $100, according to the Times. Medicare covers the cost, but many private insurers don't. 

The survey found that companies with fewer than 25 workers were least likely to test their workers, with just 8 percent doing so. About 40 percent of companies with 1,001 to 5,000 workers were testing their workers, and about 60 percent of companies with more than 5,000 workers were testing, the Times reported. 

The survey also found that 37 percent of U.S. companies conducted contact tracing for workers who tested positive, compared to more than half of companies abroad. 

Zack Cooper, PhD, an economist at the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Conn., told the Times he had some concern that the survey could be biased because companies that didn't respond might differ from the companies that did. 

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