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Lawmakers introduce legislation to expand coronavirus testing capacity and accessibility

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Larry Bucshon, M.D. (R-IN) introduced two pieces of bipartisan legislation today to increase diagnostic testing capabilities at public health laboratories and expand testing access to hospitals, physicians and other health service providers, especially in rural and underserved areas. The move comes as the nation works to rapidly expand coronavirus testing – which public health experts say is critical for states to safely reopen.

“In order to save American lives — and safely reopen the country — we need widespread, rapid and precise coronavirus testing. However, too many communities still lack capacity and equipment,” DeGette said. “These pieces of legislation would vastly expand testing at our nation’s public health labs and ensure underserved communities have equal access to coronavirus testing.” 

“Public health labs play a substantial and critical role in identifying and managing large-scale public health threats. However, their ability is severely limited by a lack of high-throughput, automated testing platforms. In fact, 46% of our public health laboratories are without even a single high-throughput testing platform on site,” Bucshon said. “These bills will provide much-needed funding to hospitals, physicians, and public health labs to acquire diagnostic testing platforms with a rapid turn-around time, as well as needed testing materials and supplies. Until an effective vaccine or therapeutic for COVID-19 is developed and widely available, the key to keeping Americans safe and limiting the spread of the virus is to continue expanding our nation’s ability to rapidly test and isolate potential new cases. The American people are counting on us to ensure our hospitals and public health labs have the equipment they need in order to meet the demands of the current COVID-19 outbreak, as well as future outbreaks.”

The first piece of legislation – called the Diagnostic Testing for Public Health Labs Act – would help public health laboratories purchase high-throughput diagnostic testing platforms, which simultaneously test thousands of samples using automation processes.

These platforms significantly increase testing capacity, quicken the turnaround time for results and improve accuracy by removing the possibility of human error.

Now that FDA has granted emergency use authorizations for COVID-19 tests that use these high-throughput diagnostic platforms, DeGette and Bucshon’s legislation would direct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to award grants to help regional, state or local public health laboratories purchase these machines and the necessary supplies to ramp up testing.

The second piece of legislation introduced today by DeGette and Bucshon would help expand diagnostic testing to areas of the country, particularly rural and underserved areas, that lack quick access to a public health laboratory to process test results.

The bill – called the Rapid Testing for Communities Act – would direct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to award grants to hospitals, physicians and other eligible health care providers to help perform coronavirus diagnostic testing outside of a laboratory setting.

This would allow patients to get tested and receive results directly from their health care provider with a rapid turn-around time. Under the legislation, priority for these grants would be given to underserved areas. 

DeGette and Bucshon have led the effort in Congress to improve the nation’s diagnostic testing capabilities. In March, the lawmakers introduced the VALID Act to create a regulatory framework on how FDA reviews and approves diagnostic tests going forward.

A copy of the Diagnostic Testing for Public Health Labs Act is available here.

A copy of the Rapid Testing for Communities Act is available here.