The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agreed to make testing for the new coronavirus free to any American, regardless of whether they have health insurance, following pressure by Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.).
At a congressional hearing on Thursday, CDC Director Robert Redfield agreed to invoke his legal authority to authorize the use of federal funds to pay coronavirus testing fees.
Prior to the agreement, Porter tallied up before Redfield the high costs that someone might face for coronavirus testing, which involves tests for Flu A, Flu B and a trip to the emergency room.
“This all totals up to $1,331,” Porter said, noting that the total didn’t include the cost of someone being kept in isolation, which she said could nearly quadruple that estimated cost.
“Will you commit to invoking your existing authority under 42 CFR 71.30 to provide for coronavirus testing for every American regardless of insurance coverage?” Porter asked Redfield.
Under the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, 42 CFR 71.30 states that “The Director may authorize payment for the care and treatment of individuals subject to medical examination, quarantine, isolation, and conditional release.”
The rule adds that the payment for care and treatment is “subject to the availability of appropriations” and that it will be paid only after all third-party payers, such as private insurance carriers, “have made payment in satisfaction of their obligations.”
U.S. health insurance companies have agreed to waive copays for testing for the virus as well as cover the cost of its treatment, Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday.
Medicare and Medicaid will also cover costs without copays. But those without insurance could be stuck paying whatever rate the doctor or hospital chooses.
“Fear of these costs are going to keep people from being tested, from getting the care they need, and from keeping their community safe,” Porter told Redfield, who after repeatedly dodging a direct answer, eventually agreed to invoke his authority.
“I think you’re an excellent questioner,” Redfield told her, “so my answer is yes.”
“Excellent!” Porter exclaimed. “Everybody in America, hear that: You are eligible to get tested for coronavirus and have that covered, regardless of insurance.”