During Thursday’s House hearing on the coronavirus response, Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) used a whiteboard and knowledge of federal law to push the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to commit to make COVID-19 testing free for Americans.
With the Trump administration and the CDC taking heat over the slow rollout of test kits, as well as the price tag some have experienced when able to get tested, Porter confronted Health and Human Services official Dr. Robert Kadlec on the out-of-pocket cost of certain medical tests.
After he admitted he wasn’t sure, Porter pulled out the whiteboard and wrote down the costs for a round of tests, such as a complete blood count and metabolic panel.
Continuing to grill Kadlec on the cost of each of these tests—with Porter once quipping that it was like The Price Is Right—the Democratic congresswoman then brought up what the cost of an emergency-room visit would be for a patient who was identified as a “high severity and threat” for the novel coronavirus.
Noting that the average cost is $1,151, Porter added up all the costs and concluded that the cost of getting a coronavirus test would “conservatively” come to $1,331, noting that fears of these costs “will keep people from getting tested.”
Turning to CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, Porter wondered aloud whether or not he would like to know who does or does not have the virus.
“Yes,” he answered, prompting her to further ask if he would like it so that it’s not just rich people who can afford testing.
“All of America,” he replied.
Porter then pointed out that there were a number of federal regulations that applied to the CDC that allows the director to authorize payment for the treatment and care of individuals “subject to exam and quarantine, isolation and conditional release.”
“That I know about,” he said. “My office did tell me about that.”
“So you’re familiar,” Porter responded. “Dr. Redfield, will you commit to the CDC right now using that existing authority to pay for diagnostic testing for each and every American regardless of insurance?”
While hemming and hawing, Redfield first said that the CDC would do “everything to make sure everyone” gets care, causing Porter to push back and say that wasn’t “good enough.”
The California lawmaker, known for her tough questions during hearings like this one, continued to grill Redfield on whether he’d commit to paying for the tests. After he said the CDC will work with HHS on how to “operationalize” that, Porter gave him an ultimatum.
“Dr. Redfield, I hope that answer weighs heavily on you. Because it is going to weigh heavily on me and on every American family,” she said, adding, “You don’t need to do any work to operationalize. You need to make a commitment to the American people so they come in to get tested. You can operationalize the payment structure tomorrow.”
Redfield eventually relented, crediting Porter for pushing him.
“I think you’re an excellent questioner, so my answer is yes,” he declared.
“Excellent,” Porter reacted. “Everybody in America hear that? You are eligible to go get tested for coronavirus and have that covered regardless of insurance. Please, if you believe you have the illness, follow precautions, call first, do everything the CDC and Dr. Fauci—God bless you for guiding Americans in this time. But do not let a lack of insurance worsen this crisis.