Will testing policy changes by healthcare providers impact r

(WBEN) - Local elected officials are hoping that a change in COVID testing policy will not result in scaling back business reopening.

Three major health insurance providers in Western New York said this week that they will not cover return to work, return to school, or "peace of mind" COVID testing, instead only covering testing that is prescribed by a doctor because a patient is symptomatic or has had close contact with someone who is infected.

Many elected officials have already spoken out against the change, saying the new policy will be a barrier to testing. Some doctors have said the same.

"When we started testing in April, that was what we were doing. We were just testing those that were symptomatic," said Dr. Simone Wildes, an infectious disease specialist at South Shore Health. "We moved away from that. We got more tests. The hope was that we were going to be able to test not only symptomatic patients, but asymptomatic too. But guess what, here we are back to where we started."

Dr. Wildes said that only testing symptomatic people, or those who have had contact with a positive case, will likely have another result: local infection rates should appear significantly higher.

With those infection rate numbers being relied on to move along the reopening process across New York State, could the change in testing mean business is scaled back yet again?

"That's a huge concern," said State Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said earlier this week that if the infection rate numbers increase, business closures could happen again.

"If new cases and positivity rates increase, it is extremely unlikely that NYS will allow fans into (Buffalo Bills) games," Poloncarz said in a statement.

"The reopening, guidelines on how businesses operate, how we're making decisions is based off of the infection rate," Ortt said. "We are going to have to look at this and I think for some time we're going to have to provide access to testing. As long as we're operating under these guidelines, we have to make sure the tests are being done to reflect the greatest amount of people in the community."

As it stands, the new testing policy will be adopted by Univera, Blue Cross Blue Shield of WNY, and Independent Health September 1.