Photograph of a crossroads sign that reads easy way, hard way, right way, wrong way, new way, old way (Credit Take Photo via Shutterstock)
(Take Photo via Shutterstock)
Photograph of Dr. Robert Zavoski and Jeffrey Steele

The Lamont administration’s response to the pandemic leads the nation in its creative response to the coronavirus scourge, bringing clinical and testing resources to bear where and when needed, enabling access to telehealth services, while enforcing critical, if unpopular, public health measures. This response is saving countless lives.

Unfortunately, Connecticut appears to be at a crossroads in its COVID pandemic response. Apparently alarmed at state spending, state leaders seek to curtail support of COVID testing and minimize state costs for the COVID vaccine just as vaccine efforts ramp up. Specifically, state officials propose charging individual’s insurance plans for COVID testing and/or vaccine administration.

H.L. Mencken once said, “that for every problem, there is a simple solution that is wrong.”  Forcing providers and clinics to bill insurances for the COVID pandemic response is just such a solution, that when reviewed critically, is just plain wrong.

Yes, combating COVID is expensive, but ineffectively combating COVID will be more so. One needs only to look across the country for examples of failed responses to the pandemic, that cost states and individuals far more in dollars and in lives, to see that an early, vigorous and sustained response to COVID makes economic sense.

Requiring use of insurance benefits to pay for COVID testing and vaccines will erect barriers to both that the public’s health cannot afford. People who fear they have COVID, or fear they’ve been exposed, need to be tested without considering the cost of their co-pays, denied claims, and misuse of their personal data by health plans. Barriers to testing will cost the state more in terms of lost lives, unnecessary health care costs, and prolonging the pandemic’s drag on the state’s economy.

Further, less testing blinds our ability to track the impact and efficacy of the new vaccines. We will not know if the current COVID vaccines will remain effective for months or even years. Without testing, we won’t know if the vaccines aren’t working until the hospitals fill up again.

Further still, variant viruses are spreading before our eyes; their impact remains to be studied and monitored. Monitoring means testing – widespread, sustained, community testing – not less testing.

Unlike influenza, or measles, or other infectious diseases that when you have it, you know it. COVID is a silent killer. Many people with COVID have no symptoms but spread the virus just the same. The only way to trace COVID activity is by continued surveillance testing. Waiting for people to complain of symptoms, or for hospitals to fill up, will be too late and will result in many more unnecessary deaths.

Five hundred thousand deaths in America is silent but eloquent testimony to the severity of the threat posed by this pandemic and the need to continue our vigilance in the face of this threat. Charging health insurance for COVID testing and immunization is a wrong-headed solution to the state’s budgetary concerns. If the state wants to charge the private insurance plans for their fair share of the cost of combatting COVID, it can do so using the example of the state’s Vaccine for Children Program, which directly charges plans for their share of costs. It will cost the state more in the long run if we place barriers to free access to testing and vaccines, especially to low-wage workers, allowing this pandemic rage on.

There is no crossroads here. The state must stay its testing course, ramp up its vaccine program both in ways that do not erect barriers to their use. If we do, and if the vaccines work as intended and are used as needed, Connecticut will turn a corner in its fight against COVID. We just aren’t there, yet.

Dr. Robert Zavoski and Jeffrey Steele are Chief Medical Officer and Chief Executive Officer respectively at First Choice Health Centers Inc. in East Hartford. Zavoski previously served as medical director at the Connecticut Department of Social Services for 13 years. Steele has spent his entire career in the health care industry, and brings leadership and finance experience from FQHCs, hospitals, and nursing homes.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the authors are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of