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Democratic Senators introduce bill to provide free coronavirus testing

Democratic Senators introduce bill to provide free coronavirus testing
© Greg Nash

Several Senate Democrats introduced a bill Thursday that would expand free tests to confirm the COVID-19 infections regardless of health care coverage. 

The bill, dubbed the Free COVID-19 Testing Act, is led by Sens Tina SmithTina Flint SmithSenate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls Smith wins reelection in Minnesota Democrats expand Senate map, putting GOP on defense MORE (Minn.), Gary PetersGary PetersRepublican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race Hillicon Valley: YouTube suspends OANN amid lawmaker pressure | Dems probe Facebook, Twitter over Georgia runoff | FCC reaffirms ZTE's national security risk Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff MORE (Mich.), Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayNational reading, math tests postponed to 2022 amid coronavirus surge Democratic anger rises over Trump obstacles to Biden transition DOJ investigation into Epstein deal ends without recommended action MORE (D-Wash.), Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers On The Money: Push for student loan forgiveness puts Biden in tight spot | Trump is wild card as shutdown fears grow | Mnuchin asks Fed to return 5 billion in unspent COVID emergency funds Grassley, Wyden criticize Treasury guidance concerning PPP loans MORE (D-Ore.), along with Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerOvernight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases The five biggest challenges facing President-elect Biden Collins urges voters to turn out in Georgia runoffs MORE (D-N.Y.). 

“It is not only morally wrong if people are forced to forgo testing because they can’t afford it, but also a serious risk to everyone in their community,” Schumer said. “Time is of the essence — this legislation must be passed without delay.”

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Concerns over access to coronavirus testing and treatment have dominated the conversation on Capitol Hill in recent days as the disease continues to spread throughout the country. As of Thursday night, the U.S. has more than 1,600 confirmed cases as of the virus. 

At a Thursday evening speech from the oval office, President TrumpDonald John TrumpGeraldo Rivera on Trump sowing election result doubts: 'Enough is enough now' Murkowski: Trump should concede White House race Scott Atlas resigns as coronavirus adviser to Trump MORE said that health insurers had pledged to eliminate “all co-payments for coronavirus treatments." Medicare and Medicaid are covering the cost of testing, though it's still unclear how much tests will cost for the uninsured. 

“We have not yet finalized our uninsured patient price,” Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest private testing companies told The Washington Post. “Our goal is to enable broad access.”

There has been mixed messaging from the White House on the availability of tests. Last week, Trump  told reporters "anybody that wants a test can get a test," though health officials have reported they are limiting tests to those who fit certain criteria due to shortages.

Senators from both sides of the aisle voiced concern Thursday over the status of "millions" of test kits to Vice President Pence, who is leading the administration's response. The vice president told them the tests would be available by the end of the week. 

“We are going to have — and I suspect are having, and I think they alluded to it in there — a supply chain problem,” said Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Coast-to-coast fears about post-holiday COVID-19 spread Potential 2024 Republicans flock to Georgia amid Senate runoffs Voters elected a record number of Black women to Congress this year — none were Republican MORE (R-Fla.).

The Senate bill comes as the House scrambles to reach an agreement on an economic relief package in response to the coronavirus. On Thursday, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases House Democrats urge congressional leaders to support .1B budget for IRS Bipartisan Senate group holding coronavirus relief talks amid stalemate MORE (D-Calif.) said they’re “close” to reaching a deal with the White House, which will likely come Friday.