Providers are being urged to prepare for a dramatic increase in coronavirus testing as federal regulators and states continue to emphasize the importance of testing everyone in nursing facilities. 

The preparation should include knowing how to prioritize testing among residents and staff members, access reliable testing, and knowing the potential costs and what to do once results have come back, according to the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living.

“Providers need to increase efforts around testing and document efforts,” the organization stated in recent guidance

“[The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] has recently emphasized the importance of testing for COVID-19 in nursing facilities. Surveyors are increasingly looking for evidence that nursing facilities are testing symptomatic residents and isolating them while results are pending. In addition, a growing number of states are requiring testing of all residents and/or staff.” 

Among those states are California, which recently announced plans that allow asymptotic people in nursing homes to be tested, and West Virginia, which announced a first-of-its-kind move for everyone in nursing homes to be tested.

The organization noted that providers should be aware of all local and state guidelines for testing priority. General prioritization order should go as follows: residents; then staff members, showing symptoms or those who’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19; followed by asymptomatic residents and staff members. 

Additionally, providers should look to their local or state health departments on steps they should take to access testing, noting that some states may have specific vendor and testing protocols. 

The group also noted that not all testing labs will bill Medicare directly so providers should ensure the lab they’re receiving tests from will bill the program.  

“If a lab does not have the ability to bill Medicare, the facility will need to pay for the tests up-front. Tests range in cost from $115 to $500. Medicare Part B will only reimburse $51 for the PCR and $35 for other tests,” AHCA/NCAL explained. 

There has yet to be guidance on who should collect test samples, but providers should follow the test instructions and check state regulations. 

Once providers receive results back, AHCA/NCAL cautioned that results only capture information from a specific point in time, and a resident’s condition could change with subsequent exposure. 

“Considering test results are not 100 percent accurate, nor do test results always identify when a person is actually infected due to the incubation period, considering every interaction as a risk is important,” AHCA/NCAL wrote.