The coronavirus testing conundrum

March 4, 2020, 3:07 PM UTC

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Happy Wednesday, readers.

I promised you a major coronavirus dispatch yesterday. Well, it went up last night.

In the course of writing this story on the mess that is the coronavirus testing procedure (and what such tests might cost a patient), I reached out to every state department of health in the country. All 51 of them (every state plus DC), alongside urgent care centers, pharmacy chains, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and others.

And while a handful of these agencies responded on the record, either via email or in telephone interviews, it was striking to see how many simply pointed to press releases, declined to talk to me at all, or didn’t respond. (Some have begun reaching out to me since the piece was published last evening.) The CDC declined multiple requests for comment. California’s health department declined multiple requests for comment. CityMD, one of the largest urgent care centers in New York, didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

Of course, part of that silence is likely due to the fact that many of these organizations have their hands full with the coronavirus situation. But there’s clearly also some confusion about how the process works, and how federal, state, and local agencies interact with the health care system.

The good news: Multiple health departments told me that coronavirus tests are finally making it to local labs that are cleared to conduct such testing. But as for how much such testing costs patients? That’s a lot more nebulous.

For instance, the two coronavirus tests which are cleared for use (the CDC’s and one developed in New York) should ostensibly be free. But that isn’t always how it works out in practice. A hospital stay or quarantine could still cost you thousands of dollars even if the coronavirus testing, itself, is free. So how “free” is it, then?

For many, many more details about what we now know about this procedure, head on over here.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


Livongo doubles its membership. Digital chronic health management firm Livongo continues to grow its footprint. The company, which went public last summer, says its membership nearly doubled in 2019, with nearly 223,000 active members at the end of last year. Its most popular product remains its flagship diabetes program, which uses connected devices and glucose monitors while simultaneously linking patients with health coaches via an app who give them personalized advice based on their blood sugar levels and other biometrics. I spoke with the company's leadership during its IPO to discuss its strategy and secret sauce. (MedCity News)


Takeda is trying to make a blood plasma-based coronavirus drug. Takeda, Japan's largest drug maker, is joining the ranks of companies developing coronavirus treatments. What's different about Takeda's approach, however, is it utilizes blood plasma from coronavirus patients who have actually recovered from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the pathogen. That's the second bit of major news from the company in a week—recently, it scooped up a smaller biotech in order to build its celiac disease treatment pipeline. (Wall Street Journal)


Supreme Court takes up major abortion case. Obamacare isn't the only thing headed back to the Supreme Court. A long-brewing fight over abortion rights will now be overseen by the justices. Arguments in the case, which centers on a Louisiana law that would require doctors who perform abortions to have special "admitting privileges" (and therefore would cause nearly all clinics in the state which provide such services to shut down), began at 10 a.m. this morning. There are five conservatives on the court versus four liberals, so it could all come down to one vote. States and the Trump administration have been cracking down on abortion providers in recent years. (Reuters)

WHO: Coronavirus mortality rate up to 3.4%. The World Health Organization on Tuesday said that the death rate from novel coronavirus is at 3.4%, higher than the seasonal flu. However, the agency also stated that it's not quite as transmissible as influenza, though the severity of the disease is graver. This is a global estimate which one official described as "crude," and cautioned would change over time as more data is gathered. Deaths outside of China, where the outbreak originated, are now outpacing deaths within China, with Iran, Italy, and South Korea reporting the most cases.


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Will the coronavirus cancel the 2020 Olympics?by Eamon Barrett

Bloomberg, Sanders, and Warren want to use post offices as banksby Nicole Goodkind

More and more companies are gaining an appetite for A.I. acquisitionsby Jonathan Vanian

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