COVID vaccines really are free. What to know if you're worried about surprise bills. - IndyStar
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Yes, the COVID-19 vaccines are really free.
Months after the rollout, with millions of doses administered across the country, there are still concerns that the vaccine comes at a cost or requires health insurance — and that misconception is a significant reason why some people are not getting vaccinated.
In a Kaiser Family Foundation study published in May, researchers found that one-third of Americans were concerned about having to pay out-of-pocket costs for the COVID-19 vaccine. Black and Hispanic adults were also more likely to see cost as a barrier, compared to white adults.
It’s a reflection of America’s modern-day health care system, according to Jon Macy, an associate professor of public health at Indiana University. He researches the design and implementation of public health strategies, including ones related to the coronavirus pandemic.
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“We have a system where you have to pay for your healthcare," Macy said. "So it doesn't surprise me that people are skeptical when we say that the vaccine is free. What other thing has been free in our healthcare system? You can't really think of anything, right?”
So who is footing the bill?
Who is paying for the COVID-19 vaccines?
COVID-19 vaccines are "free of charge to all people living in the United States," no matter their health insurance or immigration status, according to the CDC. A provider is also not allowed to charge office visit fees or require other medical services before you get the vaccine.
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The government is paying for the vaccines through federal funding and partnerships with health insurance companies. Passed in March 2020, the CARES Act requires health insurance companies to cover "any qualifying coronavirus preventive service," which includes immunizations to prevent or mitigate the disease. For people who are uninsured, providers can get money from the government's Provider Relief Fund, administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration.
The American Rescue Plan Act, passed this year in March, also allocates money for the research, production and purchase of vaccines.
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Providing the vaccine for free ensures that everyone can get one and "helps us get closer to the goal of achieving population immunity," the CDC states.
Why do some clinics ask for a health insurance card?
Vaccination providers may ask for your health insurance card, if you have one, so they can bill your health insurance company, but you are not required to have insurance, according to the CDC. But don't worry -- you won't have to pay.
Your insurance company may be charged to take off some of the financial burden from pharmacies and clinics. For example, United HealthCare says it sometimes has to pay an administrative fee to cover the post-vaccine standard observation of 15-30 minutes. Humana also says having your card, "in case the vaccine provider requests it," ensures the provider can receive a reimbursement.
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You as the vaccine recipient, however, will not have have to bear any of that cost, through any kind of administration fees, co-pays, or co-insurance. In fact, all vaccination providers have to agree to ensuring the vaccines remain 100% free for patients before they can become official providers.
Asking for this information might also help health insurance companies keep track of how insured customers are getting the vaccine, according to Macy, but it still may act as a barrier by creating suspicion.
"If this free, then why are you asking for this information?" Macy said.
If you are charged a fee or if you notice any other violations associated with the government's requirements, the CDC encourages reporting them to the Office of the Inspector General by calling 1-800-HHS-TIPS or visiting tips.hhs.gov.
To schedule your shot, call 211 or visit ourshot.in.gov. Many clinics also offer walk-in appointments.
Contact Rashika Jaipuriar at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @rashikajpr.