Former Bush HHS chief calls for more COVID-19 testing money in congressional letter, says we were "unprepared"

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A bipartisan group of 16 health care leaders are calling for an additional $46.5 billion in government funding to increase contact tracing and testing as the coronavirus pandemic rages on.

In a letter addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, members from across the public health policy field urged more action.

Fox News talked with one of the signatories, former Bush administration Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.

“We have to, first of all, be able to develop a test that’s accurate and we’re still not there yet, there are lots of tests out there and lots of disparity with the results and we have to refine that and then we have to execute and to execute at a scale that has never been done,” said Leavitt.

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Leavitt co-signed the letter with, among others, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Andy Slavitt, and former Senator Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

Last week, President Trump signed another coronavirus relief bill with a $484 billion spending price tag, of which $25 billion was allocated to testing.

The letter calls for novel approaches going forward to manage life in the coronavirus era. These include hiring 180,000 contact tracers in the health care workforce, utilizing vacant hotels to contain self-isolating COVID-19 patients to jump-start the hospitality industry, and paying those patients $50 a day while in isolation to maintain their involvement in an economy that would be slowly reopening.

Leavitt acknowledged that the federal response has been slow, especially regarding testing, but with the caveat that we are in uncharted territory; this level of testing has never been done ever.

“Anything you say in advance of a pandemic sounds alarmist and what we’re learning now is anything you’ve done after it starts is inadequate ... The truth is we were not as well prepared as we should’ve been and that’s been true throughout history and hopefully the next generation will be better prepared.”

Leavitt, a former governor of Utah, has adopted the view that testing responsibilities should be left up primarily to the states. He seemed to agree with Vice President Mike Pence in that the federal government can only provide so many tests, while not being on the hook to process those same tests.

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“It’ll be different in every state and different parts of states ... To say to the federal government, 'You’re responsible to do all testing in all parts of the United States' is not just constitutionally incorrect, it’s not logistically impossible.”

But Leavitt did urge one component of the federal machinery to be used more: HHS Secretary Alex Azar. Leavitt described him as "able” and “confident” even as rumors swirl that he could be replaced very soon. President Trump shot down those reports in a tweet last week, expressing confidence in Azar’s handling of the crisis.