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Lack Of Federal Funding, Changing Insurance Policies Strain County's COVID-19 Testing

Chris Yarzab

Onondaga County has been relying on a combination of grant money, its own funds, and insurance company coverage to cover all of its asymptomatic testing. But now, insurance companies are less inclined to cover those tests.

County Executive Ryan McMahon says asymptomatic testing is the reason the area has been able to keep its infection rate so low.

If you want to talk about finding hidden pockets of the virus, which then inevitably keeps your numbers low, you’ve got to do asymptomatic testing," said McMahon. "Or else you’re just testing sick people or people who you have reason to believe that COVID has been in the buildings. So if you do that, you’re never going to keep your rates that low.”

McMahon said he’s disappointed insurance companies have taken this position. He hopes a saliva test being developed at Upstate will soon be approved by the FDA and can reduce the cost of testing.

Compounding the challenges brought on by insurance company pushback, Onondaga County did not receive federal funding from the CARES Act, like its neighbor Madison County. McMahon said CARES funds have gone toward testing and other coronavirus-related expenses in the counties that got it. Onondaga County has yet to receive any direct federal aid, meaning McMahon must now cut hours to help the budget.

“We were all on the same page that the federal government would hopefully step in, and they led us to believe they’d step in too but they haven’t," said McMahon. "So here we are. Our workforce hasn’t done anything wrong. They’ve performed, many of our departments have performed better than any other department in the history of our government.”

McMahon said the budget is A “36-month financial issue.” The County is facing an $80-100 million budget hole. McMahon is expected to bring a proposal to the county legislature Tuesday that would allow him more flexibility when it comes managing workforce hours.