Politics

Sens. Warren and Smith inform Azar that they discovered "important loopholes" in Covid assessments

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, wears a protective mask as she speaks to a media representative at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, United States on Wednesday, December 2, 2020.

Stefani Reynolds | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., And Tina Smith, D-Minn., Have notified the Secretary for Health and Human Services that they have discovered "significant gaps in COVID-19 testing capacity."

In a letter to HHS chief Alex Azar this week, Warren and Smith said they made the discovery after contacting five of the world's largest Covid testing labs: Quest, BioReference, ARUP Labs, LabCorp. And Mayo Clinic.

They said the labs told them they saw a "big increase in the need for COVID-19 diagnostic tests" during the summer surge. The letter said laboratories are also developing additional testing capacity but are still in short supply and have "confusion over payment and reimbursement of COVID-19 diagnostic tests as a result of inaction by Congress and administration."

Warren and Smith said the laboratory companies "urged Congress and the administration to clarify when third-party payers, the government, or other responsible parties should reimburse various types of COVID-19 tests, including for diagnostic, screening, or monitoring purposes . ""

The labs also called for more federal funding for additional testing.

President Donald Trump has defended his administration's testing program.

"Our testing program has been amazing, and we'll be coming out with new tests soon that will make the process even easier. And you won't necessarily need doctors to do the test, so we've put out some incredible tests in a very short amount of time," Trump boasted on Tuesday at an event at the White House where he signed an ordinance to ensure Americans give vaccines priority.

The coronavirus has killed more than 280,000 people in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The letter also touched on a separate investigation into the availability of pediatric coronavirus testing. Previously, they sent letters to some of the largest retail test providers and the National Community Pharmacists Association "soliciting information about their guidelines for pediatric testing and their plans to expand testing to more age groups," Warren and Smith told Azar. They contacted CVS, Kroger, Rite Aid, Walgreens, Walmart, and the National Community Pharmacists Association.

Warren and Smith acknowledged that pediatric tests are becoming increasingly common, but "most retailers don't offer tests for young children".

The senators provided Azar with possible solutions, including invoking the Defense Production Act and clarifying payment rules.

Trump also said he would apply the Defense Production Act if he had to prioritize the vaccines, but that he didn't think he would need it.

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