Using a whiteboard and a deep breadth of knowledge regarding the costs of testing for the coronavirus, Representative Katie Porter peppered Trump administration officials into submission, finally causing them to cry uncle and commit to free testing for Americans “regardless of insurance.”
During a Thursday House hearing on the government’s reaction to the coronavirus, the Democratic representative from California first ran through a number of questions to Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dr. Robert Kadlec regarding out-of-pocket costs for the uninsured for COVID-19 tests and hospital costs. He did not fare well.
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Porter added up the costs she’d just demonstrated on her whiteboard and went on to explain how they could reach as high as $4000 for one uninsured family. She said that “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 continued, “We live in a world where 40 percent of Americans can’t even afford a $400 unexpected expense. We live in a world where 33 percent of Americans put off medical treatment last year, and we have $1,133 expense, conservatively, just for testing for the coronavirus.”
The congresswoman then turned her attention to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield and asked, “Do you want to know who has the coronavirus and who doesn’t?”
“Yes,” Redfield replied.
“Not just rich people, but everybody who might have the virus?” Porter asked.
“All of America,” Redfield replied.
Porter then pointed to specific federal regulations that give the CDC director the power to authorize government payments for “the care and treatment of individuals subject to exam and quarantine, isolation and conditional release.”
“That I know about,” Redfield said. “My office did tell me about that.”
Porter replied, “Great. So, you’re familiar with that.”
Porter then asked, “Dr. Redfield, will you commit to the CDC right now using that existing authority to pay for diagnostic testing free to every American regardless of insurance?”
Redfield danced around the question, saying, “I can say, we’re gonna do everything we can to make sure everybody…”
Portor interrupted, “Not good enough.” The congresswoman then pointedly said to the director, “You have the existing authority.”
Porter continued confronting Redfield. While emphasizing each word methodically, she asked: “Will you commit, right now, to using the authority that you have, vested in you, under law, that provides in a public health emergency for testing, treatment, exams, isolation, without cost, yes or no?”
Again Redfield tried to give a non-answer, and Porter was having none of it, cutting off the director after only a few words left his lips.
“No,” Porter said. Then the congresswoman spoke about a letter she’d sent to the CDC last week about the authority the director had in providing economic relief for those who need tests and treatment.
“Dr. Redfield,” Porter said. “I hope that answer weighs heavily on you. Because it is going to weigh very heavily on me and on every American family.”
Porter continued to insist, “Dr. Redfield, you don’t have to do any work.”
Finally, the director relented, saying, “I think you’re an excellent questioner, so my answer is yes.”
“Excellent!” Porter exclaimed. “Everybody in America hear that? You are eligible to go get tested for coronavirus and have that covered, regardless of insurance.”
Porter, who won her seat in 2019, has already earned a reputation for ruthlessly questioning and holding accountable those who come before her during committee meetings. But in this case, it’s strikingly sad the lengths she needed to go through to secure an answer that not only benefits those who need help because of economic reasons but for the overall health concerns of an entire country and, possibly, the world.
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