Ohio Medicaid begins laying out plans for coronavirus testing at pharmacies

File photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

Ohio Medicaid Director Maureen Corcoran on Tuesday described plans for Ohio pharmacies to begin testing one of the state’s most vulnerable populations — the poor — for the novel coronavirus.

Ohio Medicaid Director Maureen Corcoran on Tuesday began to explain plans to incorporate Ohio pharmacies into the state’s coronavirus testing system.

The plans come as data about the virus from Ohio and elsewhere show a worrying trend

In Ohio, the number of new cases has for days been far above the three-week average. And on Tuesday, the numbers of deaths, hospital admissions and ICU admissions due to the virus had all leapt considerably above their 21-day averages as well.

In a phone interview, Corcoran sought to clear up confusion about how Ohio pharmacies can test Medicaid patients for coronavirus and be paid for the service. She explained that testing supplies and technology are changing rapidly, so the way pharmacists will be able to perform tests and how they’ll be paid will change as well.

“There are a lot of different variables,” Corcoran said.

The state has gone from testing about 3,000 people a day at the beginning of June to a high of almost 19,800 last week.

“But it’s still not as much testing as we want,” Corcoran said.

The bottom line for pharmacists is that the Medicaid department — through its managed-care organizations — will pay pharmacists $23.46 for their time in taking nasal samples and for the personal-protective equipment they need to do it. 

Corcoran said the state will cover other expenses. Over the near term, pharmacists can administer state-supplied tests and send them back to state testing facilities to be processed.

“Our first priority is to get this swabbing rate, as I call it, available to pharmacies,” she said. “Right now, we don’t need them to buy the tests.”

As the supply chain for testing supplies becomes untangled and unlimited testing becomes available, pharmacists will be able to use existing billing codes to get tests from private companies, take samples and then allow the testing company to analyze them, Corcoran said.

“In the long term what they’ll do — typically what the federally qualified health centers do — is they have a contract with Lab Corp or Quest (two private testing companies), who give them a swab and a test kit and such and then they pick it up and go and test it,” she said.

There are smaller machines that pharmacies can buy to analyze samples on-site and cut the time people have to wait to get their results. But Corcoran said the technology available now doesn’t make them optimal. The machines skew to negative results, so while a positive result is a good indicator that you have coronavirus, they also yield a fair number of false negatives, she said.

The Medicaid director said her agency soon would be issuing guidance to pharmacies about how to obtain and administer tests.

As tests become much more widely available and Ohioans try to coexist with the coronavirus, Corcoran said she foresees pharmacies potentially being a big player. For example, employers might contract with testing companies and local pharmacies to test their employees, she said.