Charleston has spent $100,000 on COVID testing for city employees
CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) – Over the past year, the city of Charleston has spent six figures on COVID testing through a private provider as opposed to insurance. But the city reports ratepayers saved money.
“We had to put something in place quickly. Because we were at risk of not being able to provide essential services,” said human resources director Kay Cross. “I know at one point our fire department had about 30%, or about a third of them either had COVID or were identified as a closed contact.”
Most COVID tests have been covered by insurance and free for testers during the pandemic.
But the City of Charleston is self-insured, meaning it uses its own money to cover employee claims dollar-for-dollar.
From February 2021 to January 2022, the city spent at least $94,740 in taxpayer money to test its employees and their dependents for COVID-19 through the laboratory company Phi Life Sciences LLC.
Cross says they required all close contacts of a positive case at work to get tested, which increased costs.
“Unlike a lot of other private companies, we didn’t really have the luxury of just closing down and having everyone go home and ‘Let’s wait for it to be over,'” she said.
The city was struggling to get test results quickly, leading to vacancies and overtime costs, Cross told Live 5 News.
The city usually follows a contracting process, but because it was considered an emergency, it signed a contract with Phi Life in September last year without having to.
Cross says the move was motivated by promised faster turnaround times rather than money, but the deal still couldn’t be beat.
“If they had offered us a higher cost, I don’t really think we would have had to think about it. The $60 per test with the fast turnaround, that made so much sense,” Cross said.
She estimates, thanks to the city’s insurance policy, that the tests could cost the city up to $139 each.
If the same number of tests were performed under this policy in the same 11-month time frame (February 21 to January 20) at this cost, it would be $230,045.
Even the Omicron spike, which cost the city $49,320 in PCR and rapid tests in January, hardly dented its $20 million health care budget.
Cross says the city is reassessing its current pandemic policies, with only a few positive cases reported at this time. The agreement is unique.
The City of North Charleston and Mount Pleasant did not report similar requirements for testing among close contacts or agree to a private provider.
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