Origins and oversight of private COVID-19 testing companies

Private COVID-19 testing companies are unlike those run in partnership with a state healthy agency or the federal government.
Published: Feb. 4, 2022 at 10:44 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - “You could just basically hang up a shingle and start doing your own testing.”

Ken Van Horn, testing director at Public Health Madison & Dane County, described how private COVID-19 testing companies can form without state or federal partnership.

“There are different pathways to get to the same place,” he said.

He explained that private entities can open as their own testing centers if they have their own labs and supplies of COVID-19 test. They must, however, follow regulations from various federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Those agencies, he said, have rules covering how labs are run and how patient privacy is protected.

Meanwhile, PHMDC has little oversight and control of private testing centers, he said.

“As long as a local testing center is following the PHMDC emergency order, which in this case is just masking indoors, that would be the only place where we would have any authority over them,” Van Horn said, adding this enforcement would apply to all businesses, not just testing centers.

Compared to private facilities, the community testing centers listed on PHMDC’s website either have a “direct relationship” with the local agency or are members of the Community Testing Support Program run by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Under the state program, sites are provided testing kits and linked to a laboratory. Reimbursements for conducting COVID-19 tests are about $20 per test, Van Horn said.

Testing sites without state affiliation, he said, can bill insurance companies.

“Under the CARES Act, your test will be covered as long as you’re symptomatic or you are exposed. And that’s one way that they can recoup their expenses,” he said.

He said the company Center for Covid Control (CCC), which closed down operations around the country including Dane County, billed the federal government for tests conducted on people without insurance.

NBC News reported the CCC’s lab billed the federal government for more than $122 million.

NBC15 viewers had shared their concerns about some private testing centers and the way they ran their tests. Heather Bott said a staff member at a Madison pop-up swabbed her cheek, then took a photo of her Medicare card and driver’s license.

Van Horn said, generally, some tests may allow for cheek swabs, depending on the manufacturer. PHMDC conducts nasal swabs because it is the faster option, he said.

“There are sometimes really reasonable explanations for things that seem fishy,” he said. “But there are other things that are just plain fishy or shady.”

The DHS, the primary contact for complaints about COVID-19 testing sites, has not responded to NBC15′s repeated requests for an interview.

If you want to file a complaint about an experience with a COVID-19 testing provider, you can contact the DHS Office of Inspector General at (877) 865-3432 or online.

You can also share your experience with NBC15 Investigates.

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