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Peters Introduces Free COVID-19 Testing Act, Presses Trump Administration to Address Testing Shortage

Legislation Would Provide Free Diagnostic Testing and Related Health Care Services for Americans Receiving Tests to Confirm Coronavirus Infection

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) introduced legislation that would expand access to free COVID-19 testing and urged the Trump Administration to address the nationwide testing shortage. The Free COVID-19 Testing Act, would waive cost-sharing for COVID-19 diagnostic testing and related health care services for Americans enrolled in private health plans, Medicare, Medicare Advantage, Medicaid, CHIP, TRICARE, VA as well as for federal civilians and American Indians. In a letter to Vice President Pence, Peters pressed the Administration to expand testing capabilities and ensure health facilities across the country are equipped to handle a potential surge in the number of Americans who need to be tested for Coronavirus.

“As we work to address the coronavirus pandemic, my top priority is protecting the health of Michiganders. We must take aggressive action, including by expanding access to free Coronavirus testing,” said Senator Peters. “Costs should never be a barrier to the testing that will help us combat this virus. The Senate should act swiftly and pass our Free COVID-19 Testing Act.”

The Free COVID-19 Testing Act would also prevent private insurers from imposing limits like prior authorization for testing. For uninsured individuals, the bill would additionally cover the cost of lab fees, and states would be allowed to cover COVID-19 diagnostic testing and related health care services through their Medicaid programs. Peters introduced this measure with U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-MN), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and other Senate colleagues.

In a letter to Vice President Pence, Peters also questioned the Administration’s failure to make testing more readily available to help limit the spread of the virus and prevent health care systems from becoming overburdened. In order to prevent the virus from spreading further, it is vital that more tests be made available to identify those that have contracted the virus and take necessary precautions. Peters pushed the Administration for details on what changes would be necessary to address the shortfall in testing capabilities, and urged the White House to develop and disclose additional protective measures that state and local health departments can take to safeguard both patients and health care providers from unnecessary exposure.

Peters has called for a strong federal response to the Coronavirus outbreak and is leading efforts in the Senate to combat this pandemic. Peters introduced bipartisan legislation to provide disaster unemployment assistance to people who are unable to work due to the current Coronavirus outbreak. Assistance would be available to individuals, including self-employed individuals and independent contractors, who are sick, quarantined, furloughed, or whose family circumstances keep them from working or reduce their pay as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak or government containment efforts. In addition, Peters led an effort urging the Trump Administration to make an emergency declaration that would immediately make emergency funds and FEMA resources available to state and local governments to help combat the COVID-19 outbreak.

Last week, Peters met with Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to press for a strong interagency response to the crisis. He also spoke with Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Health to discuss development of a vaccine and preventing spread of Coronavirus.

Peters also joined Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) in requesting detailed information about the Trump Administration’s strategy for responding to the emerging outbreak and called on the Administration to fully fund pandemic preparedness and response efforts in the 2021 budget. He also questioned the Trump Administration’s decision to allow patients infected with the Coronavirus to return to the U.S. on a plane with healthy passengers – possibly risking exposure to the virus. In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Peters and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) expressed their concerns that the Administration disregarded the advice of the public health and national security experts, and could have risked a broader community outbreak within the U.S. In addition, Peters joined Johnson in pressing the Administration for information on the security of the nation’s medical supply chain, which could lead to shortages of critical drugs and medical equipment due to the Coronavirus outbreak.

Peters previously convened a roundtable discussion with public health and security leaders to examine the federal government’s actions to limit the spread of the deadly virus. Peters also joined his colleagues in calling on the Administration to appoint a global health security expert to the White House’s National Security Council (NSC) to coordinate the Administration’s Coronavirus response efforts. The NSC has been without a health expert for almost two years.

Full text of Peters’ letter to the Vice President can be found here and below:

March 12, 2020

The Honorable Mike Pence

Vice President of the United States

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. Vice President:

I am extremely concerned about the Administration’s response to the ongoing novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, specifically in regards to testing capabilities for this virus. As hospitals and health facilities across the country prepare for the spread of COVID-19, it is clear that the Administration is unprepared and lacks concrete answers about our current and potential capacity to test for and respond to the virus. Testing after possible exposure is a critical step to help prevent further spread, and our health facilities must be equipped to handle the potential surge in individuals who need testing, while simultaneously limiting exposure to health care staff and patients. The Administration needs to provide the public accurate information about current testing abilities, hospital preparedness and surge capacity, and measures that communities can take to fight the spread of this virus.

In response to questions this morning during a Senators briefing from Administration officials, it is evident that federal agencies do not have a plan to ramp up testing capacity as this virus spreads and additional actions are necessary. When countries around the world are utilizing drive-through testing methods, including in South Korea, Germany, Australia, and the United Kingdom, with greater efficiency and accessibility, the United States, systematically, lags behind. Health care systems in Seattle and Denver have set up special drive-through facilities to test potentially infected individuals for the virus as well. There are additional precautions that hospitals can take to prevent co-mingling and limit the risk of exposure. The University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City, for example, has set up tents outside of their facility to securely test potentially infected patients without having them enter the hospital. These protective measures will safeguard both patients inside of hospitals as well as the staff performing the testing. Your agencies must provide the necessary resources and guidance for state and local health care systems in advance, otherwise, these systems can easily become overburdened before they recognize it. 

I ask for your responses to these questions as soon as possible, but no later than March 19, 2020, so the American people can have the most accurate and up-to-date information on the federal government’s response:

  • What changes is the Administration planning to make to address the gap that exists between need and current testing capabilities? Please describe in detail.
  • When will commercial lab companies be able to perform COVID-19 tests at full capacity? What do you expect daily testing capacity to be in these facilities?
  • Identify the barriers that currently exist to patients getting tested for the virus if they are symptomatic and steps the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is taking with state and local authorities to overcome these barriers.
  • How are your agencies planning to support the processes that would limit interaction between suspected COVID-19 cases and the general medical community, such as temporary testing facilities and drive-through testing? What measures can your agencies implement in the short-term on a large scale?
  • What resources have your agencies identified to ensure that potentially infected individuals are not co-mingled with other hospital patients? Are there specific safety guidelines for hospitals and facilities to follow for the protection of older and immunocompromised patients?
  • What steps is the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) taking to isolate those suspected of having COVID-19 from the general public at ports of entry?
  • Are HHS and DHS currently working with state and local authorities to address potential shortages of personal protective equipment and other medically necessary equipment to leverage existing supplies? If so, how?
  • If the President were to issue Disaster Declarations for COVID-19 through the Stafford Act, how would DHS utilize resources from the Disaster Relief Fund to respond to the virus? How would such actions increase testing accessibility, acquisition of personal protective equipment, potential quarantine measures, and other pandemic response efforts?

If the Administration does not address these and other concerns surrounding the virus, the consequences could be dire. Thank you for your attention to this matter.