No other vendors considered for Iowa’s $26 million contract for COVID-19 testing

By: - April 22, 2020 1:21 pm

COVID-19 testing assistance is among the items Congress is debating in new stimulus proposals. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Through a no-bid contract, Iowa will be paying $26 million to the private company hired to deliver drive-through testing for COVID-19.

Pat Garrett, spokesman for Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, said Wednesday that to his knowledge no other vendors were contacted by the state about performing assessments and testing for COVID-19.

The contract with Nomi Health Inc. calls for the state to pay the company for the online health assessments that all Iowans are now being encouraged to take. The contract also covers the cost of administering up to 540,000 tests at temporary drive-through sites that will be established throughout Iowa.

It’s expected that federal money will be used to pay for the $26 million initiative. The contract includes a provision that enables the state to back out of the deal if the promised federal funding doesn’t materialize.

The contract was awarded without the normal bidding process being followed because of the immediate need to slow the spread of the virus. One of the governor’s recent executive orders related to COVID-19 suspended the legal bidding requirements for contracts of this nature.

The contract with Nomi Health requires the company to provide the state with 180,000 tests for COVID-19 within the next 30 days. The remaining 360,000 tests will be delivered in intervals through mid-October.

The contract also specifies an “optional” service to be provided by the company that’s related to the use of hydroxychloroquine, the drug promoted by President Donald Trump as a potential “game changing” treatment for the virus. The wording of the contract is ambiguous, but in defining the scope of work to be completed by Nomi Health, the contract states that if Iowans “test positive and are in high-risk category, consider medication treatment (e.g. hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine) administered by the Health Department in order to keep hospital bed load low.”

Normally, a patient’s physician defines treatment options and dictates the course of treatment in consultation with the patient. Sarah Reisetter, deputy director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, said Wednesday that questions about allergies to the anti-malarial drugs were included in the assessment survey on in case the drugs proved promising at some point.

The companies Qualtrics and Domo will be assisting with the work performed by Nomi Health, but they will be acting as subcontractors with their costs billed to the state through Nomi Health.

Not everyone who takes the online assessment will be deemed “eligible” for a test, Reynolds has said.

“This type of information will help Iowans assess eligibility for testing and further inform the state’s response to COVID-19,” Reynolds said. “By taking the assessment and sharing the information, you can help us zero in on potential outbreaks and new clusters so that we can target our response and protect the health of others.”

Reynolds said Iowans who are tested will be swabbed at drive-through testing locations, the swabs will be sent to a lab, and the results will be sent to the individuals by email within 72 hours.

The breakdown of the $26 million in fees includes the following cost estimates:

  • $6 million for 12 months of technology and assistance related to the website used for assessments.
  • $13.5 million for costs associated with testing over a period of six months, including 540,000 test kits.
  • $4.9 million for management expenses.
  • $300,000 for equipment and hardware related to laboratory testing.
  • $1.2 million for “set up” related to technology, training and testing.

Under the contract, Nomi Health is required to either return to the state the confidential information it collects on Iowans or certify in writing that the information has been destroyed. However, it also states that while the state will retain ownership of the data collected under the contract, Nomi Health can use that data for “internal research and developmental purposes” and further allows the company to disclose that data in an aggregate format that in no way identifies any individual.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing.