The technology firms that created a multimillion-dollar COVID-19 testing system for Utah are extending the programs to Iowa and Nebraska.
Nomi Health, an Orem-based health care software and data company, is the primary contractor in all three states, though other Utah companies have roles in operating websites with names like TestUtah.com that direct respondents to coronavirus testing. According to contracts released Tuesday by the Utah governor’s office, the Beehive State is paying Nomi $5 million for agreements that began March 31 and run through May 30.
The contract released by Iowa’s state government said it will pay Nomi $26 million for one year ending April 16, 2021. Nomi is to provide 540,000 testing kits over that span. The Nebraska contract has not yet been disclosed.
Both Utah and Iowa have said they plan to pay for the contracts with federal money they are receiving as part of the national coronavirus response.
“This is all part of getting people back to work,” Nomi CEO Mark Newman said Wednesday, “and the only way we get people back to work is through massive testing.”
Newman said Nomi will function much like a general contractor with other firms from Utah’s technology sector, often called Silicon Slopes, behaving much like subcontractors. One of those is Co-Diagnostics, a Salt Lake City company that, on April 3, received emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to sell its COVID-19 testing kit.
The Co-Diagnostics kit has been used by TestUtah.com and will be used in Iowa and Nebraska, too, Newman said. “They will be one of the most important companies in Utah over the coming decade.”
The websites for each state asks respondents to complete a survey about whether they have COVID-19 symptoms, as well as other health or mental health factors, such as whether they have experienced a job loss or have stressors at home.
Respondents who meet testing criteria then can schedule an appointment at the nearest drive-thru test location. On TestIowa.com, participants can also be assessed about whether they should receive hydroxychloroquine, according to the contract. The drug has been touted as a possible treatment for COVID-19, though a study conducted at Veterans Health Administration medical centers showed no benefit.
In Utah, Nomi and the other companies behind TestUtah.com provide the computing technology, testing supplies and laboratories as well as the medical personnel and all the necessary equipment at the testing locations — from tents and propane heaters to throat swabs — to facilitate up to 3,000 tests a day.
In Iowa, officials there will provide the personnel and the infrastructure at the testing locations, according to the contract. Nomi will provide the technology as well as the actual testing supplies and the personal protective equipment to be worn by the health care workers and lab personnel.
Newman said Nomi and its partners have created an assembly line testing and processing system that will be able to deliver 5,000 results a day. He believes Iowa will receive its testing for less than $50 apiece and Utah for less than $40 — when considering all associated costs.
Jorge Contreras, a University of Utah professor who specializes in intellectual property law, reviewed the Utah and Iowa contracts at the request of The Salt Lake Tribune. He noted that while the contracts say the states own the data, they don’t prevent Nomi from providing aggregated or unidentifiable data to insurance providers, pharmaceutical companies and other corporations that use such information to set rates or develop marketing.
“That data could ultimately be far more valuable than the money the state is paying to implement these programs,” Contreras wrote in an email. “If I were the state, I might have insisted that Nomi use and disclose this collected data only as expressly permitted by the state, that the state share in any revenue that Nomi makes from exploiting this data and, most importantly, that all such forms of data exploitation are publicly disclosed.”
When asked whether Nomi planned to sell any data, Newman replied, “Absolutely not.”
TestUtah.com said it had facilitated 89,022 health assessments, as of Tuesday, and 12,542 tests. Newman said there has not yet been discussion of extending the contract with Utah past May 30. He said that pact was short because, at the time, the state was unsure how long it would need the testing.
According to a news release from the nonprofit organization behind Silicon Slopes, the American Fork business analytics company Domo has a one-year contract with Utah worth $1.5 million and receives another $500,000 for services. Domo is providing the state data and computing tools for a COVID-19 command center.
Another Utah analytics company, Qualtrics, said it has a contract with the state for $1.245 million for one year and services of $555,000. The Provo-based firm has provided data technology related to TestUtah.com and the state’s coronavirus response.
Neither the Utah nor Iowa contracts used the public bid process standard in large government deals, Newman acknowledged. He said the states and their health systems have been trying to mobilize quickly.
“If the traditional process worked,” Newman said, “then we wouldn’t have been in the crisis we were in.”