The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has paid over 5 million claims for COVID-19 vaccinations of uninsured Americans, according to a recent announcement.
The claims were paid through the HRSA COVID-19 Claims Reimbursement to Health Care Providers and Facilities for Testing, Treatment, and Vaccine Administration for the Uninsured, a program funded by pandemic-related legislation to provide equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
“We know that Black, Latino, and Native American people are more likely to be uninsured,” Diana Espinosa, Acting HRSA Administration, said in the announcement. “The Uninsured Program is a key tool for ensuring everyone has access to COVID-19 vaccines and that cost is not a barrier for individuals or health care providers. Regardless of insurance or citizenship status, we want everyone living in the United States to be able to get vaccinated as soon as possible so we can defeat this pandemic.”
Vaccination rates are still lagging among Black and Hispanic populations despite a long, national campaign to improve health equity for vaccine access, according to recent a recent report from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“Preventing racial disparities in the uptake of COVID-19 vaccines is important to mitigate the disproportionate impacts of the virus for people of color and prevent widening racial health disparities going forward,” KFF researchers explained.
HRSA said the 5 million claim mark is an “important milestone” that “reflects the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.”
Currently, there are approximately 29 million uninsured individuals living in the US, HRSA reported. And that number is likely to rise as American businesses struggle with the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Communities of color have been especially hard-hit by both the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated economic downturn,” HRSA said.
The Uninsured Program enables individuals without insurance, regardless of their immigration status, to receive COVID-19 vaccines for free. The program does this by reimbursing providers for the cost of administering the vaccine. It also reimburses claims for the administration of COVID-19 testing and treatments when delivered to uninsured individuals.
In another effort to improve equitable access to vaccines, HRSA also recently launched the COVID-19 Coverage Assistance Fund, which reimburses providers for the costs of administering vaccines to underinsured patients. Underinsured patients are those enrolled in health plans that either do not cover vaccine fees or cover them with patient cost-sharing, the agency explained.
Both programs reimburse providers at the going Medicare rate for COVID-19 vaccinations. Right now, Medicare reimburses vaccine providers approximately $40 to administer each dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the CMS website.
The Uninsured Program has fully disbursed $1 billion to reimburse providers for conducting COVID-19 testing for uninsured individuals, HRSA reports on its website. The program is now drawing from funding allocated through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which provided $4.8 billion, and legislation that supports the $178 billion Provider Relief Fund.
A report from October 2020 found that the Uninsured Program had paid out limited reimbursement to providers administering testing and treatments to uninsured patients with COVID-19. The report was notably released before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized three vaccines for emergency use in the US.