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Law360 (May 3, 2021, 9:57 PM EDT) -- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Monday that it would be reimbursing providers the cost of administering COVID-19 vaccines to patients whose health plans don't cover the fees or only partially cover them.
Providers can't bill patients for those fees, so the COVID-19 Coverage Assistance Fund will compensate providers who are vaccinating underinsured patients, HHS said in its announcement. Under the program, providers will be compensated at national Medicare rates, the agency said.
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in the statement President Joe Biden's administration is working to boost vaccine access.
"On top of increasing reimbursement rates tied to administering the shots, we are closing the final payment gap that resulted as vaccines were administered to underinsured individuals," Becerra said. "No healthcare provider should hesitate to deliver these critical vaccines to patients over reimbursement cost concerns."
HHS noted that while the COVID-19 vaccines are free to all adults in the U.S., providers are saddled with associated costs, like training, storage and staffing. And all providers working with the CDC on its vaccination distribution are required to administer the vaccines regardless of the recipient's ability to pay, according to the agency.
The program unveiled Monday will focus on patients with health insurance, but it builds on the Health Resources and Services Administration's existing COVID-19 Uninsured Program, HHS said Monday. That program has been reimbursing providers for vaccinating uninsured individuals.
The coverage assistance program is funded through the Provider Relief Fund Program, HHS said. Providers can submit claims dated on or after Dec. 14, 2020.
In his statement, Becerra said that the federal government has now secured enough vaccines for all adults.
As of May 2, about 31% of the U.S. population was fully vaccinated, according to data from the Mayo Clinic. Almost 44% of the population has had at least one dose.
Late last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said that use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine should resume after "a thorough safety review" was conducted during a 10-day pause to investigate a rare but serious side effect.
The lift followed a vote by members of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, that determined the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the small risk to mostly women under 50 of developing rare but serious blood clots. The panel recommended restarting the vaccine for adults 18 and older in a 10 to 4 vote, with one abstention.
--Additional reporting by Britain Eakin. Editing by Emily Kokoll.
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