FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act requires employer-sponsored health insurance to pay for a future COVID-19 vaccine, but millions of Americans could fall through the cracks.
Even if vaccine providers don’t charge for the vaccine itself, they can charge an administration fee, which could put uninsured Americans at a disadvantage.
According to Kentucky’s COVID-19 vaccine draft plan, “Partner agencies or organizations that provide the COVID-19 vaccine cannot charge clients for the vaccine that they receive from federal and state caches,” but private providers are not barred from charging an administration fee to help “cover costs associated with storage and the health care provider's time.”
These fees serve as financial incentives for providers to offer vaccines, but Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky President Ben Chandler said any financial barrier will hinder efforts to get the entire population vaccinated.
“I know it will dissuade people. There’s no doubt about it. That’s why we should not have that barrier. I think it’s important that barriers be removed one way or another. It can be removed by private providers absorbing that cost or by it being reimbursed by the government,” Chandler said.
In 2019, 56% of people in the United States depended on employer-based insurance, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Millions have lost employer-provided health insurance since the beginning of the pandemic.
Many newly unemployed Americans also depleted their savings accounts while trying to keep up with bills as they waited for the economy to reopen.
“We’ve got to get the vaccine to as many people as possible. Some of the most vulnerable people tend to be those who are economically disadvantaged and the last thing we need is another barrier to them getting the vaccine,” said Chandler.
Department of Health Management and Policy at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health Teresa Waters added though administration fees are often relatively small, any amount can be overwhelming for a family struggling financially.
“They may focus on food and rent and [paying for a vaccine] would simply fall below the line,” Waters said. “The populations that would most likely bear the burden of these administrative fees because they didn’t have insurance are very often our underserved populations. Given the extreme disparities we already have in healthcare and that we know COVID-19 is having a differentially bad effect on these populations, it’s really concerning that we would pile on one more thing.”
According to the Commonwealth’s vaccine plan, the Kentucky Department for Public Health (KDPH) is “currently considering a limit on administration fees and will work with providers to ensure the COVID-19 vaccine is accessible and affordable.”