Parson approves KC Democrat’s free COVID-19 testing plan

Austin Huguelet Springfield News-Leader
Vehicles line up Monday at the new COVID-19 testing site in the parking lot behind Mizzou North at 115 Business Loop 70 West. Gov. Mike Parson has cleared the way to use federal relief funds to pay up to $150 for tests for people who have no health insurance.

Getting a COVID-19 test without insurance in Missouri should be a little easier now.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Monday approved a plan to have the state cover up to $150 in costs per test for people with a doctor’s recommendation to get tested but no insurance coverage to help pay for it.

The idea came from Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, in May, when he cast it as the right thing to do for the economy and the general public.

“Testing is the cornerstone of safely reopening our economy, and no Missourian should be denied a COVID-19 test simply because they can’t afford it,” Rizzo said.

The plan takes effect immediately and will be paid for with federal money appropriated by the legislature.

The plan also takes effect following a significant jump in the number of uninsured adults across Missouri.

A new study released Tuesday by the nonprofit consumer advocacy group Families USA estimates 100,000 Missouri workers became uninsured due to job losses from February to May, driving the state’s adult uninsured rate to 17 percent compared to 14 percent in 2018.

Congress attempted to help the uninsured get tested in the Families First Act by giving states the option to cover their testing and related health visits through Medicaid.

But it is not clear whether or not Missouri took the federal government up on that option. The Department of Social Services has not responded to multiple inquiries on the matter.

In Springfield, the city-county health department is covering the cost of tests it conducts, and local hospitals have been doing the same.

Local providers like Springfield’s CoxHealth have been doing the same.

CoxHealth spokesperson Kaitlyn McConnell said in May the measure would be welcome help, though.

“As we move forward and test increasing numbers of individuals, this funding will be a great help to our organization,” she wrote in an email after the bill cleared the legislature.

Tara Hall, a spokeswoman for the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, said something similar Tuesday.

“Even if that federal funding doesn’t make it into our department, we’ve found that anything increasing access to testing helps us out in the long run anyway," she said.

That’s because increasing the number of tests conducted gives public health officials and health care providers a more accurate understanding of the outbreak, which makes it easier for them to fight it.

Ramping up testing has been a cornerstone of the state’s “re-opening” strategy in recent months, and it may be more important now than ever with caseloads rising in far southwest Missouri and around the state’s major metro areas.