"Katie Porter managed to do IN FIVE MINUTES what this administration couldn't do for WEEKS."
Straight yes or no answers are very rare on Capitol Hill -- but Katie Porter just got one.
In a blistering five-minute grilling, the California Congresswoman forced the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Robert Redfield to commit to providing free coronavirus testing for everyone - regardless of insurance.
The Representative began by whipping out a whiteboard and marker before asking the Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr Robert Kadlec if he knew the cost of a test -- or even a ballpark. He didn't, so she broke it down for him.
"This all adds up to $1,331," she said adding that if isolation is factored in the bill jumps to $4,000.
"Fear of these costs is going to keep people from getting tested, from getting the care they need and from keeping their community safe."
She pointed out that 40 percent of Americans cannot afford an unexpected $4000 expense, and 33 percent of Americans put off needed medical care last year. "And we have a $1,331 expense - conservatively — just for testing for the coronavirus."
She then tuned to Dr Redfield.
I did the math: a full battery of coronavirus testing costs at minimum $1,331.
I also did the legal research: the Administration has the authority to make testing free for every American TODAY.
"Do you want to know who has the coronavirus and who doesn't? Not just rich people, but everyone who has the virus?"
He replied in the affirmative.
"Dr Redfield, are you familiar with 42 CFR 71.30?" Dr Redfield was stumped, and Rep Porter started to get irked.
Despite her reputation for not revealing her questions, she said, the doctor's office had been informed "literally last night" that she would be asking him about the code of regulation that applies to the CDC -- and she had received a confirmation.
After more silence from the director, she spelled it out for him: He has the power to authorize payment for the care and treatment for individuals subject to medical exam, quarantine, isolation and conditional release.
Turns out he did know about the power, he just didn't know the code.
"Great, so you're familiar," Porter powered on. "Dr Redfield: will you commit to the CDC right now using that existing authority to pay for diagnostic testing, free to every American, regardless of insurance?"
"Well, I can say that we are going to do everything to make sure that everybody can..." he began -- but she immediately cut him off.
"No. Not good enough. Reclaiming my time. Dr Redfield, you have the authority," she said, before posing the question again. "Will you commit, right now, to using the authority you have, vested in you, under law, that provides in a public health emergency for testing, treatment, exam, isolation, without cost — yes or no?"
"What I'm gonna say is I'm going to review in detail with..." he tried again — and was shut down again.
"No. Reclaiming my time." Rep Porter then told him she and her colleagues wrote to him a week ago, highlighting this power he had and asking him to invoke it, and got no response. So she posed the question a third time.
"What I was trying to say was CDC is working with HHS now to see how we operationalize that," he replied.
That response got a long, icy silence, accompanied by an equally long and icy stare.
"Dr Redfield...... I hope that that answer weighs heavily on you. Because it is going to weigh very heavily on me, and on every American family."
He tried to maneuver one more time with a cookie-cutter response, saying he was "working on operationalizing" it, but she wouldn't let him go.
"Dr Redfield you don't need to do any work to operationalize," she deadpanned. "You need to make a commitment to the American people so they come in and get tested. You can operationalize the payment structure tomorrow."
Finally, he relented.
"I think you're an excellent questioner," he conceded, "so my answer is yes."
"Excellent!" she exclaimed. "Everybody in America hear that? You are eligible to go get tested for coronavirus and have that covered, regardless of insurance."
She added: "Do not let a lack of insurance worsen this crisis."
After the exchange, Katie Porter's name quickly trended on Twitter, with some calling for her to be put in charge of managing the coronavirus crisis.