The House of Representatives’ Subcommittees on National Security and Economic and Consumer Policy were scheduled to hold a joint hearing on March 10 about U.S. biodefense and the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Set to testify at this hearing were Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dr. Robert Kadlec, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Prevention Principal Deputy Director Dr. Anne Schuchat, and Government Accounting Office (GAO) Director for Homeland Security and Justice Chris Currie. 

Invitations were also sent to the Department of Defense and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Rep. Stephen Lynch, chairman of the National Security Subcommittee, joined Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee Chairman Raja Krishnamoorthi, and Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Gerry Connolly to send letters seeking detailed information from the HHS and the CDC regarding the testing, diagnoses, and costs of treating COVID-19.

“The Oversight Committee is deeply concerned about COVID-19’s impact on our nation’s public health,” the chairs wrote.  “It is essential that accurate and up-to-date information about testing and diagnosed cases is made public in order to effectively manage this outbreak and keep the trust of the American people. It is also imperative that the Oversight Committee has access to basic details regarding diagnoses — such as the number of cases confirmed in each state — so that it can conduct appropriate oversight of this urgent matter.”

Press reports indicate that there have been more than 100 confirmed cases of coronavirus across 15 states. 

The CDC’s primary channel for communicating information about the outbreak to the American people — the COVID-19 Situation Summary webpage — reportedly lacks information regarding the number of cases confirmed in each state.

Press reports of limited availability of testing kits, flaws in those that were made available, and narrow testing requirements have raised concerns about the Trump administration’s readiness to efficiently and accurately diagnose COVID-19. 

The Chairs requested key data by March 9 about diagnosed and monitored COVID-19 cases, as well as documents relating to COVID-19 testing.

The Chairs also sought information about how HHS plans to ensure that the uninsured and underinsured are tested and treated for COVID-19.  According to a press report, an underinsured man recently went to a hospital to be checked for the coronavirus, and although a routine test revealed that he only had the flu, he received a bill for $3,270.

“Testing and treatment costs of thousands of dollars will cause many uninsured and underinsured individuals to avoid care for coronavirus-like symptoms,” the Chairs wrote. “That will not only hurt those who go untreated, but also hasten the spread of COVID-19.”

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