COVID-19: A Q&A

In our endless desire to make sure Idahoans have accurate, current, and relevant information about COVID-19, we’re continuing to answer questions we have received through the Department of Health and Welfare’s (DHW) social media accounts, in emails, and in our daily lives as we all live with the coronavirus in our communities. Here are some we’ve collected recently.

Q: I’ve heard that hospitals make more money treating COVID-19 patients, so they are labeling more patients as COVID-positive than they are actually treating for COVID-19. Is this true?

A: This is not true. There is a false rumor circulating that hospitals are misrepresenting COVID patient data to increase federal reimbursements for patient care. It is true that the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act increased reimbursements to hospitals for Medicare patients with COVID-19 due to the high cost of COVID-19 patient care.

However, it is not true that healthcare providers have an incentive to misrepresent a patient’s COVID-19 status. To begin with, a misrepresentation of a patient’s COVID-19 status would be fraudulent, exposing the provider to civil and even criminal liability. 

Second, the clinicians who decide whether to diagnose patients with COVID-19 have no economic incentive to do so. The way physicians in hospital systems are compensated for the services they provide is not based on what Medicare or other payers reimburse the hospital system for the care. A diagnosing physician is paid the same amount for services provided to a patient with or without a COVID-19 diagnosis. 

Third, Medicare’s increased reimbursements typically do not cover the increased costs of providing care to COVID-positive patients. COVID-positive patients often suffer more intense symptoms and potential complications than non-COVID patients. These patients often require a combination of medications and sometimes a ventilator for many days to support breathing. Even COVID-19 patients whose disease does not become more severe require more expensive care, including increased use of personal protective equipment, seclusion, and more rigorous disinfection routines. The modest increase in Medicare reimbursement does not come close to covering the cost of care. 

Finally, Medicare is the only payer that has increased hospital reimbursement for COVID-positive patients. Therefore, for the vast majority of patients under age 65, there is no increase in funding for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

Q: The number of tests being done seems to be going down. Why would that be?

A: It’s difficult to say why the number of tests is decreasing, but as far as we can tell, the demand has decreased as the number of new cases has started to decline.

Q: I have heard so many things about the time it can take for someone to get a COVID-19 test result – anywhere from less than a day to more than two weeks. Can you tell us what the average turnaround time is in Idaho, and why there is so much variability in the length of time it takes?

A: The current statewide average turnaround time between when the specimen was collected and when the state is notified is 2-3 days. However, that average may not necessarily indicate the time it takes providers to notify patients of their results. It’s also important to remember that 2-3 days is an average. Some results will be delivered more quickly, and some will take much longer.

Increasing testing capacity in Idaho is top priority. Several initiatives are in progress, but there are still several reasons test results can take longer to be delivered. Locations of providers and the labs they choose to send samples to can increase the time it takes for a person to get their results. Providers can send samples to any lab they choose, and they may send to a regional, out-of-state lab, or they can send to the state lab in Boise. Simply put, it takes longer for samples in rural areas to reach a lab.

The timing for when a specimen is sent to a lab can have an impact on the turnaround time. For example, a person’s sample could be collected in the morning but then sent to the lab later in the day if all the specimens from that provider are sent in one batch.

Providers may have their own processes for notifying patients. People with positive results might be notified before people with negative results, for example.

It can be difficult for providers to contact patients as well, since many people don’t answer phone calls from numbers they don’t recognize. Even if you usually disregard calls from numbers you don’t recognize, it might be a good idea to answer those if you are waiting on test results.  

A reminder

To slow the spread of COVID-19 in Idaho, we all need to work together. Remember to:

  • Keep at least six feet between you and others in public
  • Wear face coverings in public places (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus, and do not know it, from transmitting it to others)
  • Stay home if you are sick
  • Wash your hands often
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Disinfect surfaces and objects regularly

Resources

Stay up-to-date with the latest and most accurate information on COVID-19 at the following websites:

CDC Coronavirus Disease Website

Idaho’s Coronavirus Website

Idaho Rebounds Website

One.Idaho.gov

DHW also posts lots of information, including daily updates on the numbers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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