Senator Warren seeks clarification on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's existing legal authority to cover COVID-19 testing and treatment

Pictured: U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), official portrait 114th Congress.(Photo: Public Domain, U.S. Senate)

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In a House hearing, CDC's director walked back agreement to use CDC's legal authority to make sure affordable testing is available to all Americans

News Release

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield requesting information on whether the agency has the legal authority to cover COVID-19 testing and treatment costs, and its plans to use those authorities as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Senator Warren's letter follows last week's House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing when Director Redfield indicated under questioning that he would use this authority, only to then walk back his comments.

Congress is taking steps, to provide free COVID-19 diagnostic tests to the American public, including under- and uninsured Americans. H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, would require public and private insurers to cover COVID-19 testing, as well as the provider visits necessary to acquire the testing, with no cost sharing. But even if this bill becomes law, there would still be significant needs for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help pay for the treatment and care of individuals infected by the coronavirus. "The treatment of COVID-19-infected individuals will be expensive, creating significant financial barriers for Americans seeking care. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has the authority to address this concern and ensure that all Americans can receive testing and treatment for COVID-19," Senator Warren wrote.

Under the Public Health Service Act, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director has significant authority to act to "prevent the spread of any communicable disease." In particular, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director may, at their "sole discretion," "authorize payment for the care, and treatment of individuals subject to medical examination, quarantine, (and) isolation" — which would appear to include individuals who have or are suspected to have COVID-19. This means that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could pay for all costs not covered by any form of insurance for COVID-19 testing and treatment for Americans with the virus.

Even though Director Redfield appeared last week, to agree to use that existing authority in his exchange with Congresswoman Katie Porter (D-Calif.), he later appeared to go back on the commitment in his closing statement.

"If utilized by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this authority could be an invaluable tool for millions of Americans who may not be able to afford testing and treatment, and it could help prevent the spread of COVID-19," Senator Warren wrote. "It is critical that you clarify your response and your plans to use this existing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authority in order to ensure all Americans who have or fear that they may have COVID-19 can afford testing and treatment."

The senator has requested answers to the questions in her letter no later than March 31, 2020.

In response to the coming economic downturn due to coronavirus, Senator Warren has called for a $750 billion economic stimulus package that would focus on recovery from the grassroots up, not Wall Street down. Such a package would apply the lessons from the 2008 bailout and provide direct help to families harmed by the coronavirus outbreak, including universal paid leave, increasing Social Security benefits by $200 a month, broad cancellation of student loan debt, and protecting and expanding housing.

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