At Thursday’s House Oversight Committee hearing on the coronavirus, Rep. Katie Porter came armed with a whiteboard, black dry erase marker, and a deep understanding of testing and hospital costs.
After revealing the potential costs associated with seeking COVID-19 testing, the Democratic representative from California extracted a commitment from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield to make testing free to every U.S. citizen "regardless of insurance.”
"People are getting sick, and several Americans have already lost their lives," Porter told ELLE.com. "We need strong leadership, and we needed it weeks ago when this first started to become an issue. I'm glad that as I continued to press him, he was able to get to 'yes' on committing to make the testing free, but now we need follow through more than anything."
I did the math: a full battery of coronavirus testing costs at minimum $1,331.— Rep. Katie Porter (@RepKatiePorter) March 12, 2020
I also did the legal research: the Administration has the authority to make testing free for every American TODAY.
I secured a commitment from a high-level Trump official that they’d actually do it. pic.twitter.com/RmolCtmNbG
Porter, an attorney who studied law under Elizabeth Warren at Harvard, is known for her dogged questioning and for holding accountable the people that come before the committee. She said she started preparing for Thursday's hearing as soon as it was announced last week by doing research and thinking about what kinds of questions working families might have for the high-level officials. Then, Porter drafted a list of potential topics for questioning and narrowed them down to the three talking points, knowing she would have just five minutes for questioning.
She looked for relevant facts and figures, read up on the latest news, and consulted academic literature. The best way to get her point across, she believed, was a strong visual to show what the cost would mean for working families.
So, at the hearing, she outlined the costs of coronavirus testing on a whiteboard. She tallied up the $1,331 total with a marker, later tweeting: "I did the math."
Then, Porter then turned her attention to Redfield. She wanted to know: Would he commit to using a provision in federal administrative law to make coronavirus testing free for every American?
“Do you want to know who has the coronavirus and who doesn’t? Not just rich people, but everybody who might have the virus?” Porter asked him.
“Well,” he replied, “I can say we’re going to do everything to make sure everybody can get the care they..."
Porter interrupted: "Not good enough."
“I’m going to review it in detail with the CDC and the department," he replied.
The back and forth lasted a full five minutes before Redfield waved the white flag.
“I think you’re an excellent questioner,” Redfield acquiesced, “so my answer is yes.”
The Administration isn’t acting with the urgency this issue deserves. So, I’m leading over 80 of my colleagues in calling on @US_FDA and @HHSGov to issue guidance allowing academic medical centers to support the rest of the medical community in preventing the spread of #Covid_19. pic.twitter.com/2lFE6awV3d— Rep. Katie Porter (@RepKatiePorter) March 13, 2020
His agreement, as Porter told to ELLE.com, is to use an "existing regulation that allows the government to pay for the care and treatment of individuals subject to medical examination, quarantine, isolation, and conditional release." Porter also said she told Redfield he could "operationalize the payment structure as soon as today." She hasn't heard back from his office yet.
The CDC did not respond to ELLE.com's request for comment to confirm that it would follow through, but Porter remains optimistic.
"I was glad he agreed to make that commitment, and now, I'm going to see to it that he follows through," she says. "Promises are great, but action is better."
This isn't the first time Porter has demonstrated her ability to ask concise and trenchant questions during a grilling. Last April, she stumped multimillionaire JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon during a House Financial Services Committee with the question: "How are workers supposed to make ends meet?
One month later, she asked Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson about foreclosure properties during his testimony before the House Financial Services Committee. "I'd also like you to get back to me if you don't mind to explain the disparity in REO rates," Porter said to Carson. "Do you know what an REO is?"
He thought she was talking about Oreos.
"My pro tip is to remember to actually ask a question," Porter says. "That's the only way you're going to get an answer from these witnesses."
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