Coronavirus testing and treatment will be free, CDC director says

WASHINGTON — Tests for the coronavirus will be covered by insurance policies, as will treatments for people who are infected, said Robert Redfield, MD, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in congressional testimony on Thursday.

That assertion mirrors what both President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have said about the coronavirus testing regime, which has been slow to get going. “We want the American people to know that they are covered through private insurance,” Pence said on Tuesday. “They are covered through Medicare and Medicaid. And there will be no surprise billing.”

If people refrain from getting tested, public health authorities will have trouble tracking the spread of the disease, which has so far infected about 1,300 Americans, killing 38.

Trump made a similar point as Pence in his Wednesday night address on the coronavirus from the Oval Office. “Earlier this week, I met with the leaders of the health insurance industry, who have agreed to waive all copayments for coronavirus treatments, extend insurance coverage to these treatments and to prevent surprise medical billing,” Trump said, apparently referencing the same meeting in which Pence made his own assurance about coverage.

Despite that, reports out of Seattle indicate that people are in fact being charged for tests: as much as $500 for individuals with insurance and $1,600 for those without it, according to HuffPost. (HuffPost and Yahoo News are both part of Verizon Media.)

And yet, as Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., told Redfield during Thursday’s congressional hearing, the CDC’s website lacked “information about what the test costs, who will cover it and whether uninsured people can be tested. And so this has contributed to the confusion and the panic.”

At the same time, Pressley managed to get Redfield to plainly say that coverage for testing and treatment would be universal.

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testifies during the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on Coronavirus Preparedness and Response, in Rayburn Building on Thursday, March 12, 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

“Will the cost of testing be covered?” she asked.

“The cost of testing will be covered,” Redfield answered.

“And what about treatment?” Pressley asked.

Redfield again answered in the affirmative. “Cost of treatment will be covered,” he told her.

A coronavirus treatment does not yet exist and is not likely to be available for many months. The same is true for a vaccine. Tests do exist, but only a few thousand Americans have been tested so far.

“This is a public health crisis and we must confront it with every tool at our disposal,” Pressley said in a statement. “Coronavirus testing and treatment must be affordable and available to everyone to prevent the further spread of the pandemic. While CDC Director Redfield committed to covering the costs of both testing and treatment, I have little faith in this administration to make good on their promises.”

Later, Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., also confronted Redfield, informing him that as the director of the CDC he has the legal power to waive any fees for testing.

Redfield repeated to Porter what he had told Pressley, that he would invoke that authority, though he offered no details about when he would do so or whether he could confer with Trump beforehand. A press representative for the CDC did not respond to follow-up questions.

Still, it was enough for Porter. “Everybody in America, hear that,” she said. “You are eligible to go get tested for coronavirus and have that covered regardless of insurance.”


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