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Congresswoman convinces CDC director to pay for coronavirus testing

Posted at 8:34 AM, Mar 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-13 09:50:10-04

During a Thursday congressional hearing on Capitol Hill with top health officials, Rep. Katie Porter, D-California, was able to convince the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to cover the cost of novel coronavirus testing for all Americans.

Porter began her time by directing questions to Dr. Robert Kadlec, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services. She asked him the out-of-pocket cost of a series of medical tests a potential coronavirus patient would undergo for a person without insurance.

According to Porter's tallies, the cost of a blood count test, a complete metabolic panel, tests for both flu "A" and flu "B" and an ER visit came out to about $1,331. She then pointed out that all Americans — poor and rich — are at risk for contracting COVID-19.

Porter then directed her questioning to Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the CDC, and asked him specifically about 42 CFR 71.30 — a statue that would allow the CDC director to "authorize payment for the care and treatment of individuals subject to medical exam(ination), quarantine, isolation and conditional release."

When Porter asked Redfield if he would commit to use the statute to cover the cost of coronavirus testing for all Americans, Redfield initially resisted.

"Well, I can say that we're going to do everything to make sure everybody can get the care they need," Redfield said.

But Porter kept pushing.

"Nope, not good enough," she said. "Yes or no?"

After another few minutes of back and forth, Redfield eventually agreed to invoke the statute.

"I think you're an excellent questioner, so my answer is yes," he said.

According to CNN and Slate, some questions remain unanswered by Porter's questioning. It's not clear if the CDC would cover things like ER or hospital visits or how Americans would access these benefits moving forward. In addition, coronavirus testing capacities in the United States remain well below the level of demand.