Did Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the Coronavirus Reponse team in the Trump administration, "let it slip" that the lack of COVID-19 testing was because it wasn't profitable enough for private labs? No, that is not true. Birx said during a White House news conference that her office had been working with labs to increase coronavirus testing capability, and that more technicians would need to be hired to do more tests.
The labs reported they couldn't hire more technicians to run the machines that facilitated the test if they were only being reimbursed $50 per test. So, the administration increased the reimbursement to $100 per test.
Posts were making the rounds making the claim, like this one (archived here) from the Facebook page Lower Drug Prices Now on April 20, 2020. It opened:
During a COVID-19 press conference, Dr. Birx let it slip that the lack of testing is because it wasn't profitable enough for private labs. "It takes a tech full-time. At$50 a test, it wasn't enough to hire another tech to run the machine full-time. At $100 a test, it is."
THIS DISASTER HAS BEEN ALL ABOUT FOR-PROFIT TESTING
This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:
Lower Drug Prices Now's post quickly saw over 9,000 shares. But Birx was not actually talking about the labs making a higher profit from the COVID-19 tests. Rather, she was talking about needing more funds to hire technicians to facilitate the tests.
During the April 16, 2020, White House news conference, President Trump was asked how many tests states would need to reopen in the phases proposed by the administration. Birx responded to the question, saying, in part, that the country's coronavirus testing capability was doubling after changes were made to the testing-reimbursement process.
The phrase in the Facebook post was said by Dr. Birx in her answer, according to the official transcript of the press conference provided by the White House:
And I just want to thank Administrator Verma -- Seema Verma -- who went through with us, and thanks to the lab directors, they really explained to us: highly technical difficulty to run some of these big pieces of equipment. Because you have to allocate the samples, you have to centrifuge, you have to put them on the machine. It takes a tech full-time. At $50 a test, it wasn't enough to hire another technician to run the machine full-time. So at $100 a test, it is."
Here is a video from C-SPAN of Dr. Birx answering the question.
Bloomberg News reported on April 19 the problems labs were having in increasing their coronavirus testing capabilities.
The Trump administration says it is chipping away at these problems. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently doubled the reimbursement for Covid-19 tests to $100 a test so labs can hire more technicians to run diagnostics machines, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has begun allowing a polyester-based swab akin to a Q-tip to be used to collect Covid-19 samples.
Dr. Birx did not "let it slip" that labs wanted to increase their profits. Instead, she stated that the labs could not increase the number of tests they completed without hiring more staff. In response, the government doubled the reimbursement for the tests so more technicians could be hired.