Butler County $6M program to offer free testing and vaccinations for coronavirus

The Butler County commissioners have approved a request for proposals for their new $6 million coronavirus testing and vaccination program, which will be free for residents.

The county received $18.7 million in federal coronavirus relief funding, and the commissioners earmarked the large sum to provide free testing and eventually vaccines when they are rolled out. When they were drafting the RFP, County Administrator Judi Boyko said they envisioned billing insurance first, now it is an outright free program for residents.

“Based on some feedback when I was chatting with potential providers, and it really surfaced when I was communicating based on the $50,000 and under contract, that some of the entities structurally are challenged to have that third party billing system,” Boyko said.

To get the program launched quickly, the county already put feelers out to see if any providers would be willing to accept smaller contracts below the $50,000 bidding threshold to begin testing. Boyko said there haven’t been any takers yet.

The RFP spells out that the providers must present a unit price for the tests and vaccines and they are not allowed to charge residents for office visits when they receive medical procedures. According to the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine website, costs range from $36 to $180 per test, but “any test would also likely require additional charges for specimen collection and a physician’s visit.” The federal government has subsidized the cost for tests themselves.

The program asks potential providers to demonstrate how they can handle both testing sites countywide and “strike team operations” that can be deployed to help populations that have the most need, based on updated data from the Butler County General Health District.

As of Monday there have been 16,923 total cases since the pandemic began in March. Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer’s office tracks hotspots throughout the county. She is the point person for this testing/vaccination effort.

“We are excited the program will bring additional options and continue to increase testing access for Butler County residents,” Bailer said, adding there are already 30 testing locations countywide. “This program gives residents even more options for testing as cases continue to rise. In addition, public health will have the option of utilizing the successful bidder in vaccination efforts, should we need them.”

Former health commissioner Dr. Robert Lerer told the Journal-News after viewing the RFP that it “appears to” incorporate a plan that was already in place. While only one provider will win the contract, it does allow for sub-contractors to accomplish widespread immunizations if necessary.

“The plan appears to be based on best practices in public health as I know them from my 43 years as commissioner of health,” Lerer said. “As a citizen, I am reassured that there is planning going on at the political level jointly with the Butler County Health Department, state and federal agencies.”

According to the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, the state issued a draft of its vaccination plan in October, which Gov. Mike DeWine is expected to discuss Thursday. Under the plan high-risk healthcare workers and first responders will receive FDA-approved vaccines first, followed by the elderly living in nursing homes or those with underlying conditions. The shots will be dispensed in further phases after that, according to risk levels.

Jon Honeck, CCAO senior policy analyst, said other counties have used CARES Act money to further the testing and vaccine effort. Hamilton County budgeted $19 million for testing in July, and Muskingum County is giving Genesis Hospital $300,000 to cover the costs associated with testing and the vaccine, as well as the necessary means to store the vaccine. Honeck said there could be other efforts statewide but they haven’t surveyed their members on this topic specifically.

Lerer recommended the county’s plan needs to evolve as the pandemic has.

“Transparency, accountability, monitoring, and continuous search for improvement of processes, with fine tuning as we move forward will be essential,” he said.


CONTINUING COVERAGE

The Journal-News has covered every step in the process of the Butler County commissioners spending and distributing CARES Act funding. We’ll continue to watch how those dollars are spent and what the local communities are doing for residents.

About the Author

ajc.com