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 SmithFauci: Paul doesn't know what he's talking about Clean electricity standard should be a no brainer amid extreme climate impacts Overnight Energy: Democrats reach budget deal including climate priorities | Europe planning to cut emissions 55 percent by 2030 | Army Corps nominee pledges not to politicize DAPL environmental review MORE (Minn.), Gary PetersGary PetersSenate confirms Biden's Air Force secretary Here's evidence the Senate confirmation process is broken Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill to hold platforms accountable for misinformation during health crises | Website outages hit Olympics, Amazon and major banks MORE (Mich.), Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayTech executives increased political donations amid lobbying push Schumer, Tim Scott lead as Senate fundraising pace heats up Sunday shows preview: As delta variant spreads, US leaders raise concerns MORE (D-Wash.), Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSenate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Jan. 6 probe, infrastructure to dominate week Democrats brace for slog on Biden's spending plan MORE (D-Ore.), along with Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck Schumer84 mayors call for immigration to be included in reconciliation Senate infrastructure talks on shaky grounds Could Andrew Cuomo — despite scandals — be re-elected because of Trump? 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 TrumpCuban embassy in Paris attacked by gasoline bombs Trump Jr. inches past DeSantis as most popular GOP figure in new poll: Axios Trump endorses Ken Paxton over George P. Bush in Texas attorney general race 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 RubioGOP lawmakers request Cuba meeting with Biden Bipartisan congressional commission urges IOC to postpone, relocate Beijing Games Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill to hold platforms accountable for misinformation during health crises | Website outages hit Olympics, Amazon and major banks 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 PelosiHouse rejects GOP effort to seat McCarthy's picks for Jan. 6 panel GOP brawls over Trump on eve of first Jan. 6 hearing Five things to watch as Jan. 6 panel begins its work MORE (D-Calif.) said they’re “close” to reaching a deal with the White House, which will likely come Friday.