In a dramatic confrontation in Congress yesterday, Representative Katie Porter questioned Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The topic was the lackluster testing for COVID-19 in the U.S., and how to improve the numbers. By the end of the question-and-answer session, Redfield had committed to providing free COVID-19 tests to the uninsured.
"Will you commit to the CDC right now using that existing authority to pay for diagnostic texting free to every American regardless of insurance?" Porter asked, after demonstrating how costly testing and healthcare services become for uninsured people.
"Well, I can say that we're going to do everything to make sure everybody can get the care they need," Redfield said.
"Nope, not good enough," Porter responded. "Dr. Redfield, you have the existing authority. Will you commit right now to using the authority that you have vested in you under law that provides in a public health emergency for testing, treatment, exam, isolation without cost — yes or no?"
After some more give and take, Redfield agreed to approve the expenditure. "I think you're an excellent questioner, so my answer is yes," Redfield said, under oath.
Both the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC have been criticized for the small number of COVID-19 tests performed in the U.S. It's not just the cost; for many months the only approved test for COVID-19 was the government's test. And at first, the test wasn't working correctly. Then there were shortages of the necessary reagents.
The FDA has recently sped up the approval process for COVID-19 testing from non-government labs. Two of the largest diagnostic companies in the U.S., LabCorp (NYSE:LH) and Quest Diagnostics (NYSE:DGX), have both started testing for COVID-19.