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Warren asks CDC director to clarify agency authority over free COVID-19 testing and treatment

Warren asks CDC director to clarify agency authority over free COVID-19 testing and treatment
© Greg Nash

Senator Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWhat a Biden administration should look like Overnight Defense: Dems want hearing on DOD role on coronavirus vaccine | US and India sign data-sharing pact | American citizen kidnapped in Niger Conservative operatives Wohl, Burkman charged in Ohio over false robocalls MORE (D-Mass.) sent a letter Wednesday to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield requesting clarification on whether the agency has the authority to cover the cost of testing and treatment of COVID-19 for Americans, particularly the uninsured.

The letter follows last week's House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing when Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) pressed Redfield to provide free medical tests and treatment for people affected by the virus.

In the letter, Warren underscored that the CDC maintains the authority to provide financial assistance such as free testing and paid medical aid under the Public Health Service Act to "prevent the spread of any communicable disease." 

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She added the CDC director could "authorize payment for the care, and treatment of individuals subject to medical examination, quarantine, [and] isolation," indicating this measure would include individuals who have or are suspected of having COVID-19. 

"This means that the CDC could pay for all costs not covered by any form of insurance for COVID-19 testing and treatment for Americans with the virus," Warren stated.

"It is critical that you clarify your response and your plans to use this existing CDC authority in order to ensure all Americans who have or fear that they may have COVID-19 can afford testing and treatment."

The Massachusetts senator said Redfield appeared to agree that covering costs were in his purview and that he would use existing authority to allow for free medical tests and treatments in his exchange with Porter. 

"Doctor Redfield, will you commit the CDC right now to using that existing authority to pay for diagnostic testing free to every American, regardless of insurance?" Porter asked, during the hearing. 

Redfield said, "I can say we're going to do everything to make sure everybody can get the care they —"

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Porter interrupted his statement, saying, "Nope, not good enough. Reclaiming my time."

The director restarted his response: "What I'm going to say is, I'm going to review it in detail with the CDC and the department."

Once again, Porter requested additional time after appearing dissatisfied with Redfield's answer.

Porter asked more pointedly, "Will you commit to invoking your existing authority under 42 CFR 71.30 to provide coronavirus testing for every American regardless of insurance coverage?"

"What I was trying to say," Redfield said, "is that CDC is working with HHS now to see how we operationalize that."

Porter remained unappeased by his statement, and continued to probe him, saying, "Doctor Redfield, you don't need to do any work to 'operationalize.' You need to make a commitment to the American people so they come in to get tested. You can operationalize the payment structure tomorrow."

"I think you're an excellent questioner," he said, "so my answer is yes."

However, Redfield later appeared to go back on the commitment in his closing statement, Warren noted.

Warren wrote that she requests answers for this clarification no later than March 31.

On Tuesday, Warren along with Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOcasio-Cortez says she doesn't plan on 'staying in the House forever' What a Biden administration should look like Ocasio-Cortez: 'Trump is the racist visionary, but McConnell gets the job done' MORE (I-Vt.) and a dozen other Democratic colleagues sent a letter to Vice President Pence requesting a response about an insufficient number of available coronavirus testing kits.