The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has offered further clarification on its COVID-19 testing strategy for home health agencies.
According to an online “index” of its distribution efforts, HHS is sending tests to the “largest 100+” home health and hospice agencies, with those providers then tasked with distributing COVID-19 tests to locations within their networks.
In total, that allocation of tests will cover 1.8 million patients and allow staff at the selected agencies to be tested once per week, according to the department.
Thus far, 632,480 COVID-19 Abbott BinaxNOW diagnostic tests have been sent to home health and hospice agencies, an HHS spokesperson told Home Health Care News in an email.
For context, HHS is planning to distribute 150 million tests it procured from Abbott to U.S. senior care providers and others “as quickly as possible.” Nearly 37 million of those tests will have been distributed by the end of this week, with over 7 million going to nursing homes and 26.5 million going to state governments across the country.
“As I have stated before, the way to flatten the curve, slow the spread and save lives until we have a safe and effective vaccine is smart policies, plus smart testing,” HHS Assistant Health Secretary Adm. Brett Giroir said on a call with reporters Monday. “This is the proven formula that worked in the Sunbelt in the deep South, and [it] can work across the country.”
The home health care industry is historically a very fragmented field, with anywhere from 10,000 to 12,000 different agencies in operation over the past few years.
In 2019, Kindred at Home was the largest home health organization in terms of patient volume, yet it only controlled 5.9% of the overall market, according to Atlanta-based data and technology firm LexisNexis Risk Solutions, which is a part of the global analytics company RELX (NYSE: RELX).
Amedisys Inc. (Nasdaq: AMED), LHC Group Inc. (Nasdaq: LHCG), Encompass Health (NYSE: EHC) and AccentCare are also among the top-five largest providers. Even so, not a single one accounted for over 5% of the U.S. home health market in 2019.
Of the 150 million tests that are set to be distributed, 10 million are expected to be sent to home health and hospice providers.
HHS is encouraged by how the tests have been deployed and utilized thus far.
“The response to the additional tests [distributed] to the ecosystem has been tremendous,” Giroir said.
Giroir also reiterated on the call that asymptomatic testing is encouraged, especially for workers coming into contact with vulnerable populations.
Previously, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention switched its guidelines to not recommend testing for individuals that were asymptomatic. Since then, they have reversed that decision.
“We do support asymptomatic testing,” Giroir said. “The only way that you’re going to screen millions of people per month is to use these antigen tests, which have been in our armamentarium.”