Pharmacists voice concern over end of vaccine coverage for uninsured

As HHS' Covid-19 Uninsured Program runs low on funds, it will no longer reimburse pharmacies for COVID-19 vaccines and tests, according to a March 23 report from Bloomberg Law.

Providers — including pharmacists, primary care physicians and hospitals — received notice of the change after Congress passed a $1.5 trillion federal spending package that excluded an allotted $15 billion for COVID-19 funding. 

The HHS program stopped accepting claims for COVID-19 testing and treatment for uninsured patients March 23. Vaccination claims for the uninsured won't be accepted after April 5, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration. The agency also said it couldn't guarantee there would be sufficient funds to cover claims submitted before those deadlines.

Alexandria, Va.-based VanDorn Pharmacy has administered about 80,000 COVID-19 vaccines since January 2021, with about half of the vaccines given to uninsured people, according to NBC4 Washington.  

"We did vaccinate at least about 10, 15 people today — third dose," Yodit Gulelat, a pharmacist at VanDorn Pharmacy, told NBC4 Washington. "Fourth dose is coming, another variant is coming and a lot of those people are also, like, minorities who won't have insurance. So, how do you say no to them?"

"Uninsured Virginians will still be able to access testing and vaccines free of cost through their local government thanks to strong funding provided by Congress to state health departments, federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics," a spokesperson for Sen. Mark Warner told NBC4 Washington.

"If this money runs out right now, we are going to have a lot of people in the state in a bind," David Wroten, executive vice president of the Arkansas Medical Society, told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. "If we want physicians to be able to test and treat patients who do not have insurance, this money is critical to be able to do that."

"There are only two options," Mr. Wroten said. "Providers either absorb the cost or don't provide the service."

Since May 2020, HRSA has paid providers, clinics, labs and hospitals almost $11.4 billion for COVID-19 testing, $1.6 billion for administering vaccines and $5.8 billion for COVID-19 treatments to the uninsured, according to data analyzed by Bloomberg. 

The end of the program has implications for White House's "test-to-treat" initiative, which aims to get Americans tested and treated for COVID-19 in one location.


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