Bill Gates Says U.S. Covid-19 Testing Program Is a ‘Screw-Job’ With an Easy Fix

Bill Gates on June 24, 2020 in Washington.
Bill Gates on June 24, 2020 in Washington.
Screenshot: Getty Images for All In WA (Getty Images)

Billionaire tech legend Bill Gates says testing for coronavirus in the U.S. has been a “screw-job” that’s providing very little value because test results aren’t coming back quickly enough. Most Americans are waiting several days and sometimes weeks to get their covid-19 test results, something that Gates says can be fixed if the U.S. government simply refused to pay the country’s big testing labs for any results that take longer than two days. But Gates says the government won’t listen.

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Gates made the comments during an episode of the new Wired podcast Get Wired, and didn’t pull any punches—except perhaps when Gates used the term “federal government” at various times when he clearly meant “President Donald J. Trump.”

“It’s just stupidity. If you reimburse and you don’t care how late the date is, and you reimburse at the same level, of course they’re gonna take every customer. Because they’re making ridiculous money, and it’s mostly rich people who are getting access to that,” Gates told Wired editor Steven Levy about how the testing companies are raking in huge sums while providing terrible service.

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“You have to have the reimbursement system pay a little bit extra for 24 hours, pay normal for 48 hours, and pay nothing [for results that take longer than that]. And they’ll fix it overnight!” Gates said emphatically.

You can hear the exasperation in Gates’s voice, describing how the U.S. government has allowed the country to see the worst outbreak in the entire world, with over 5 million cases and 163,000 deaths. Gates even talked about how he proposed making a new website for the Centers for Disease Control that would streamline test results and monitoring but has been ignored.

“Now, you still should have prioritization of inner city and nursing homes and things like that, which a CDC website that we proposed to them early on would just take care of that. But all they have to do is change the reimbursement system. And the fact that the majority of all U.S. tests are completely garbage, wasted… they’ll clear the queues and only take in things that they can process quickly, because it’s a screw-job to get late results,” said Gates.

The reimbursement rate for covid-19 tests is set by the federal government, under the Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services, and overseen by controversial Trump-appointee Seema Verma, and yet no one seems to respond when Gates tells them about his easy fix. Verma has a long history of, let’s say, “swampy” behavior, even before Trump appointed her. And she was recently investigated by a top government watchdog for shelling out $5 million to well-connected contractors.

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“The federal level sets that reimbursement system and when we tell them to change it, they say ‘as far as we can tell, we’re just doing a great job, we’re just... it’s just amazing,’” Gates said. “This is August. We’re the only country in the world that... we waste the most money on tests. Fix the reimbursement, set up the CDC website. I’ve been on that kick, but people are tired of listening to me.”

Gates famously warned about the threat of a pandemic during a TED Talk in 2015, and has pledged roughly $1 billion for vaccine research, with about $100 million of that going to fight the new coronavirus specifically. But oddly enough, conspiracy theories about the Microsoft cofounder are abundant online, with people claiming that Gates has ulterior motives during the current pandemic.

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Some people claim that Gates wants to profit from a vaccine, something that simply doesn’t make any sense on its face, since he’s pouring money into the development and doesn’t stand to benefit financially from its deployment. The weirdest conspiracy theory is that Gates wants people to eventually get vaccinated (once it becomes available, of course) only so that people can be implanted with location tracking devices.

These same theories often intersect with the QAnon movement, which believes Donald Trump is purging alleged pedophile rings out of elite government agencies, among plenty of other things. Many QAnon followers also believe that people like Hillary Clinton have been executed by the state and that body doubles have taken their place, while others, such as John F. Kennedy Jr., have faked their own deaths for the cause. It’s all fucking bonkers, but QAnon has become disturbingly mainstream in a way that should disturb anyone who’s truly paying attention to the trajectory of global affairs.

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The new episode of Get Wired also dives into other topics with Gates, including the recent Big Tech antitrust hearings on Capitol Hill and why Gates says he doesn’t want to get into politics. Levy pressed him on this idea that Gates could stay out of politics when the two largest issues that the Gates Foundation is concerned about—climate change and public health—are being actively sabotaged by the Trump regime.

Gates really didn’t have a satisfactory answer, but it makes sense that some tech-minded people can’t understand how important politics is when you’re trying to solve big problems. Tech doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and many people still don’t understand that you need to find political solutions before tech can try to fix anything.

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For his part, President Trump continues to defend America’s abysmal response to the pandemic by claiming that the U.S. only has more cases because it does more testing.

“More Testing, which is a good thing (we have the most in the world), equals more Cases, which is Fake News Gold. They use Cases to demean the incredible job being done by the great men & women of the U.S. fighting the China Plague!” Trump tweeted on Tuesday.

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Trump is lying, of course, and while the U.S. does indeed do more testing than the rest of the world, much of that testing is “garbage,” as Gates so eloquently put it. People need to know quickly if they have covid-19 so that they can self-isolate and not infect others, prolonging this crisis.

You can listen to the Bill Gates episode of Get Wired here.

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Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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DISCUSSION

I think test pooling might be a good idea too, we can mutiply the testing capacity that way.