All Americans will have access to free testing and treatment for the coronavirus, regardless of their insurance situation, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in congressional testimony Thursday.
Dr. Robert Redfield's commitment came amid a back-and-forth with Rep. Katie Porter, a California Democrat, in which she held up a white board and totaled up the costs associated with testing for the coronavirus.
"I did the math," Porter said, holding up a bill tally that totaled $1,331. Noting that the cost may prevent some from getting tested, she then demanded Redfield use his legal authority as the CDC director, under the Code of Federal Regulations, to cover the cost of testing.
After Redfield said, "We're going to do everything to make sure everybody can get the care they need," Porter interjected, saying "Nope, not good enough" and continued to press Redfield until he made a commitment to use his authority to guarantee free testing.
"Our intent is to make sure every American gets the care and treatment they need at this time in this major epidemic, and I am currently working with HHS to see how to best operationalize it," Redfield said, referring to the Department of Health and Human Services.
"You need to make a commitment to the American people so they come in to get tested," Porter said. "You can operationalize the payment structure tomorrow."
With that question, Redfield seemed to relent."I think you're an excellent questioner, so my answer is yes," he said.
The regulation Porter cited, 82 CFR 6975, reads in part: "The Director may authorize payment for the care and treatment of individuals subject to medical examination, quarantine, isolation, and conditional release."
Coronavirus deaths now top 4,700, with more than 127,000 cases confirmed worldwide. The World Health Organization declared the virus a global pandemic on March 11.
CDC representatives didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.