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YPFI: Charleston spent $100K on COVID testing for city employees

Published: Apr. 21, 2022 at 6:00 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 21, 2022 at 6:17 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Over the last year, the City of Charleston spent six figures in COVID testing through a private vendor as opposed to insurance. But the city reports, taxpayers saved money.

“We had to get something in place quickly. Because we were running the risk of not being able to provide essential services,” director of human resources Kay Cross said. “I know at one point our fire department had like 30%, or so about a third of them, either had COVID or were out for identified as a kind closed contact.”

Most COVID testing has 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 employees’ 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 racking up the costs.

“Unlike a lot of other private companies, we didn’t really have the luxury of just shutting down and having everybody go home and ‘Let’s wait this out,’” she said.

The city was struggling to get tests results back in a speedy manner, resulting in vacancies and overtime costs, Cross tells Live 5 News.

The city usually follows a procurement procedure, 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.

“Had they quoted us a higher cost, I don’t really think we would have had to have thought about it. The $60 per test with the quick turnaround, it just made so much sense,” Cross said.

She estimates, through the city’s insurance policy, tests could cost the city up to $139 dollars each.

If the same amount of tests were done through that policy in the same 11-month time frame (Feb ‘21- Jan ‘20) at that cost, it would be $230,045.

Even Omicron’s spike, which cost the city $49,320 in both PCR and rapid tests in January, hardly made a dent in its $20 million budget for healthcare.

Cross says the city is re-evaluating its current policies relating to the pandemic, with only a couple positive cases reported at the moment. The agreement is a unique one.

Both the City of North Charleston and Mount Pleasant did not report having similar requirements for testing among close contacts nor an agreement with a private vendor.

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