A Democratic congresswoman secured a commitment for free coronavirus testing from the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday after she peppered him with questions about the importance of testing and the cost of treatment.
‘"Dr. Kadlec, for someone without insurance, do you know the out-of-pocket cost of a complete blood count test?" Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., first asked Robert Kadlec, assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, at the House Oversight Committee hearing on coronavirus preparedness.
Kadlec said he did not immediately know. Porter then went through, step-by-step, how much she estimated various tests and an emergency room visit would cost for an uninsured American -- pulling out a whiteboard as she did her math.
“This is like ‘The Price is Right,’” she commented as she went through the costs.
She eventually came to the figure of $1,331 and said it could be another $4,000 if that included a period of isolation in a hospital.
"Fear of these costs are going to keep people from being tested, from getting the care they need and from keeping their communities safe," Porter said. "We live in a world where 40 percent of Americans can't even afford a $400 unexpected expense."
She then turned to Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the CDC, and asked if he wants to know who has the coronavirus: "Not just rich people, but everybody who might have the virus?"
When Redfield said he did, she cited a statute she said allows the CDC director to authorize payment for treatment for certain people subject to quarantine and isolation and asked if he would commit to use that authority to pay for testing for every American, regardless of insurance.
"Well, I can say that we're going to do everything to make sure everybody can get the care they need,” Redfield started, before being cut off by Porter, who said his answer was “not good enough.”
She continued to grill Redfield as he said CDC was working with HHS to “see how we operationalize” getting testing for all Americans and asked him to commit to free testing.
“Doctor Redfield 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,” Porter shot back. "You can operationalize the payment structure tomorrow."
"I think you're an excellent questioner, so my answer is yes," Redfield said eventually.
"Excellent. Everybody in America hear that, you are eligible to go get tested for coronavirus and have that covered, regardless of insurance," Porter said.
The coronavirus pandemic has rocked global markets and forced the shutdown of schools, sporting events and other public gatherings across the country and the world.
At least 1,600 Americans have tested positive for the virus, and experts expect that number to rise significantly. So far 41 people have died in the U.S., and 4,947 have died worldwide from the virus.