Between the high costs associated with testing for the novel coronavirus COVID-19 and stories of people who believe they may be infected being turned away, questions and concerns have mounted. But thanks to Rep. Katie Porter, a self-proclaimed "mini-van driving single mom" on her Twitter bio, and her fierce questioning, coronavirus tests will be free to all Americans, regardless of insurance.
With the help of a white board and a bit of simple math, the California Democrat was able to get the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Dr. Robert Redfield to agree to free COVID-19 tests during a congressional hearing on March 12. Before turning her attention to Redfield, though, Porter asked Dr. Robert Kadlec, assistant secretary for preparedness and response for the Department of Health and Human Services, some important questions.
"Dr. Kadlec, for someone without insurance, do you know the out-of-pocket cost of a complete blood count test?" she asked. When Kadlec responded that he did not, Porter then asked if he knew how much a metabolic test costs. Again, he didn't know.
"I did the math," said Porter, who then proceeded to lay out the itemized expense for the battery of tests needed to diagnose the novel coronavirus. Her list included $36 for CBC; $58 for a complete metabolic panel; $43 for Flu "A"; $43 for Flu "B"; and $1,151 for an ER visit for someone identified as having a high severity or threat. The total bill amounted to $1,331 — and that's just for testing alone.
"We live in a world where 40% of Americans can't even afford a $400 unexpected expense," Porter said. "We live in a world where 33% of Americans put off medical treatment last year, and we have $1,133 expense just for testing for the coronavirus."
The cost of coronavirus testing, Porter explained, could be enough to dissuade low-income Americans from getting tested — thus, promoting the spread of COVID-19. She then turned her attention to Redfield and demanded that he waive the cost using power given to him under the Code of Federal Regulations. "Dr. Redfield, do you want to know who has the coronavirus and who doesn't?" she asked, to which he responded, "Yes."
"Not just rich people, but everybody who might have the virus?" Porter continued. "All of America," Redfield replied.
After a fair bit of coaxing — including Porter calling out Redfield's repeated avoidance for committing to covering the tests as "not good enough" — she finally did get Redfield to commit and give a "Yes."
"Excellent. Everybody in America hear that. You are eligible to go get tested for coronavirus and have that covered regardless of insurance," Porter said upon eliciting Redfield's pledge of commitment. "Please, if you believe you have the illness, follow precautions, call first, do everything the CDC [advises]. God bless you for guiding Americans during this time ... But do not let a lack of insurance worsen this crisis."
To that, Redfield added, "I would just like to echo what you said. It's a very important [thing for] public health that those individuals that are in the shadows can get the health care during the time of us responding to this outbreak."
As of March 12, there are 1,215 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, along with 36 deaths, according to the CDC. Earlier this month, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, warned the number of coronavirus cases will grow. "It's not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more of a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness," Messonnier said. "We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare in the expectation that this could be bad."
"I continue to hope that in the end we'll look back and feel like we are over-prepared, but that is a better place to be in than being underprepared," she said.
And with COVID-19 testing available for free is an invaluable part of being over-prepared. As are badass minivan-driving, single moms like Rep. Katie Porter.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.