Evers announces $1B COVID-19 response; OCI tells insurers tests are free

    Testing
    National Guard members wear full hazmat suits while conducting tests. (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)

    Wisconsin is putting more than $1 billion in federal funds into testing for COVID-19 infections, contact tracing to track the spread of the disease, and other measures to respond to the pandemic, Gov. Tony Evers announced Tuesday.

    The $1.17 billion investment comes from Wisconsin’s share of the funds spent by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

    The spending includes $260 million for testing, $75 million for contact tracing, $150 million for personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers, $40 million for ventilators and other costs that the pandemic has imposed on the state.

    Another $445 million has been set aside “to ensure Wisconsin hospital systems and communities are prepared to handle a surge of COVID-19 patients over the summer and fall,” Evers said.

    “There is a great deal of concern that lifting of the Safer at Home may result in a surge of COVID-19 related patients,” Evers stated, referring to the 4-3 state Supreme Court ruling last week that overturned the order from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) secretary-designee, Andrea Palm, extending restrictions on gathering and movement through Memorial Day. “Additionally, there is uncertainty regarding the resurgence of COVID-19 in the fall.”

    As of Tuesday afternoon, DHS was reporting the number of people who had tested positive for COVID-19 in the state had risen to 12,885, with 467 deaths. 

    The state is continuing to strive to test anyone in Wisconsin for COVID-19 who needs a test, Evers said, with the state now fielding 52 labs equipped to conduct more than 13,000 tests a day. Wisconsin National Guard units have been deployed around the state in 25 teams to provide local testing as well as testing at targeted locations. The testing appropriation includes $3 million to local and tribal public health departments to update plans so that they can continue testing into the fall and another $10 million for coordinating testing programs. It also includes another $45 million for local public health departments and other local health providers and systems to conduct tests in community, workplace, and group-living settings.

    Testing is free to patients, and providers will be paid $35 per test administered through August 31, the governor’s office stated.

    In a related announcement, Wisconsin Insurance Commissioner Mark Afable issued a statement Tuesday alerting health insurers that they must cover the cost of testing for COVID-19 without imposing cost-sharing under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) as well as the CARES Act

    “We need folks to know that testing for COVID-19 is available and can be accessed without any out-of-pocket costs,” Afable stated. “Under federal law, most insurers cannot require cost-sharing like co-pays for office, urgent care, or emergency department visits. If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone with the disease, get tested.”

    The Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) is advising people with private health insurance who have received bills to cover costs associated with COVID-19 tests to “speak to their insurer about having those services covered without cost-sharing,” or to file a complaint with OCI online or by calling 1-800-236-8517

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.