NORFOLK, Va. - Those who are uninsured might soon have to pay out of pocket to get the COVID-19 vaccine because of federal funding cuts.
After April 5, the federal COVID-19 Uninsured Program will stop accepting vaccination claims as federal dollars to fight the pandemic run out.
Providers, including pharmacists, primary care physicians and hospitals, will no longer be reimbursed to administer the COVID vaccine. That means, at some providers, the shot won’t be free anymore for people who don’t have insurance.
Pharmacist Anna Peoples serves a struggling community out of her Norfolk drug store, Peoples Pharmacy, on Church Street.
Now, those who face barriers could be facing even more as it could become harder for the uninsured to get a free COVID-19 vaccine.
“I just don’t want to see people that don’t have insurance being left out,” said Dr. Peoples.
Maxine Brown of Norfolk is insured but worries about some of her friends who aren’t.
“I think that’s just another roadblock or obstacle for people not getting the vaccine,” Brown said. “There’s already enough obstacles.”
Another obstacle is getting to a free clinic.
Providers - including the state health department - taking part in the federal COVID-19 Vaccination Program will still be required to offer the vaccine for free even if a person can’t pay for it. However, for many, finding transportation is a challenge.
“The accessibility may or may not be there for the uninsured to have access to the vaccines,” Dr. Peoples said.
Since the start of the year, Peoples Pharmacy has given out 2510 COVID-19 shots, with 78% of the vaccines given to people without insurance.
Dr. Peoples said she’ll continue to serve that population no matter what it takes.
“Peoples Pharmacy is dedicated to this community,” she said. “We are dedicated to serving the medically underserved communities and so we will not stop what we’re doing. We will absorb the costs as much as we can and then when we can’t absorb it anymore, we’ll ask for help.”
Many remain hopeful this change won’t be permanent, but if it is, health officials are urging people to get the vaccine including boosters now, especially with the threat of another COVID-19 variant.
“I want people to be aware of what’s coming down the pipeline, so they can prepare themselves for what they need to do to take care of themselves and their families,” said Dr. Peoples.
On Wednesday, March 23, the federal COVID-19 program stopped accepting claims for COVID testing and treatment for uninsured people due to a lack of funding.