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Monument Health to Expand Testing Capacity

Jan 05, 2021 09:59AM ● By Med Magazine

Beginning in mid-January, Monument Health will expand the criteria for testing to include more asymptomatic people. In addition, the laboratory will conduct mass testing events in the coming weeks and months. This testing will continue to support the South Dakota Department of Health’s efforts in testing more of the state’s population.

The availability of testing supplies has improved in recent weeks, said Emily Leech, Monument Health Director of Laboratory Services. Earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, supplies were scarce, and hospitals had a hard time keeping up with the testing demand.

“Going forward, we hope we’re not going to see some of the supply constraints we’ve had in the past,” she said. “Monument Health supports increased testing, and we’re doing everything we can to increase testing in our communities.”

As of Jan. 1, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) changed its diagnosis codes for COVID-19 testing, which will impact the reimbursement policies of public and private health insurers.

Testing for patients with COVID-19 symptoms will continue to be covered by most health insurers. For asymptomatic patients who have planned surgery, are being transferred to another health care facility or have known exposure to a COVID-19-positive person, testing will continue to be covered as it has in the past.

However, for people who are required to get a COVID-19 test before travel, returning to work or returning to school, the new CMS diagnosis code means that it may not be covered by their health plan and that the test will have to be paid out of pocket. 

Monument Health has COVID-19 testing available at its western South Dakota clinics and hospitals in Custer, Lead-Deadwood, Rapid City, Spearfish and Sturgis. Monument Health is also offering a test that includes COVID-19, Influenza A, Influenza B and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) from a single patient sample in their emergency departments and inpatient units.

“This will be a valuable test moving into the influenza season,” said Leech. “Providers will be able to quickly identify if one of these viruses is causing their patient’s illness.”

Since March, Monument Health has conducted more than 73,000 COVID-19 tests in western South Dakota, peaking at nearly 16,000 in November. In December, the number of tests conducted by Monument Health dropped to about 8,600. Overall testing in the state of South Dakota has also decreased in December.

Positivity rates remain high, about 20 percent on a seven-day average in December. The rate is lower than November’s 25 percent. “Ideally,” Leech said, “a community’s positivity rate would be below 5 percent.”