Laboratories meet with White House, form consortium for coronavirus tests

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration met with private lab test developers on Wednesday to discuss increasing the availability of tests for the coronavirus and said that the companies had formed a consortium.

Vice President Mike Pence said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has included coronavirus testing as an essential health benefit for health plans in a bid to increase Americans’ access to tests.

“We want every American to have access to testing,” Pence said.

HHS was not immediately available for details on the designation, which would require most health plans as well as the government Medicare and Medicaid programs to cover the tests.

Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings Chief Executive Officer Adam Schechter said that the industry was working together to increase the availability of coronavirus tests and that LabCorp expects to launch its own test soon.

Participants in Wednesday’s White House meeting included LabCorp, Quest Diagnostics Inc , Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc, Abbott Laboratories and the Mayo Clinic.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, in a Fox News interview earlier in the day, said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was shipping enough tests to allow for 75,000 tests this week, and that the CDC’s private contractor was also shipping “over a million testing capability to hospitals and labs and others who want that.”

Former Food & Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on Wednesday U.S. diagnostics companies LabCorp and Quest should step up their coronavirus testing efforts.

Gottlieb, who is part of the board of directors of Pfizer Inc and gene sequencing company Illumina Inc, said labs that perform national testing have the same ability to validate tests as academic and hospital labs.

LabCorp declined to give additional details on its testing capabilities, while Quest Diagnostics did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

Apart from test maker Integrated DNA Technologies, the FDA is also working with other commercial and academic laboratories to provide even more testing capacity, FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Caccomo told Reuters.

Last month, LabCorp said it had started developing its own test for the coronavirus and had engaged with the U.S. health agency to make the test available to commercial labs.

Reporting by Jeff Mason and Carl O’Donnell; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and Saumya Sibi Joseph in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli and Lisa Shumaker