By Sofia Gratas
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
If you’ve received an expensive medical bill related to testing or treatment for COVID-19, you’re not alone.
Reports of high or unusual fees associated with the coronavirus can be attributed to a combination of confusion and a lack of federal oversight since the start of the pandemic. Enough so that this spring, the federal government implemented stricter legislation on health care facilities to ensure that all costs associated with COVID-19 vaccines would be covered.
If you haven’t been vaccinated yet because you’re concerned about potential costs associated with the shot, keep these three facts in mind as you navigate the health care system, and take advantage of the resources that are listed.
- Vaccines are free and available
COVID-19 vaccines are available at no cost, regardless of insurance or immigration status. This also goes for booster shots. Vaccines for children 5-11 years old are covered as well.
People without health insurance can go to any vaccine provider and get a shot, free of charge, because the federal government has reimbursement program that allow health care facilities to be paid back for all vaccine-related costs.
The CDC requires participating vaccine providers to sign a contract ensuring that patients won’t incur any out-of-pocket costs or be denied service based on lack of identification or immigration status. More information on those programs can be found on the Health Resources and Services Administration website at https://www.hrsa.gov/CovidUninsuredClaim
While health care providers may ask for insurance information, a Social Security number or a government-issued ID, none if this is required to get a vaccine. Most of the time, they ask for this information to ensure that patient care qualifies for reimbursement.
- Tests and vaccines are offered at a variety of locations
The fact that the federal government has purchased hundreds of millions of vaccines
for distribution since last year makes it so that there’s high vaccine availability. Across the board, anyone older than 12 years old can get vaccinated at a variety of locations.
Uninsured people can count on most major pharmacies to have available vaccine appointments. Appointments can also be made at sites operated by the Georgia Department of Public Health at
https://gta-vras.powerappsportals.us/en-US/. And helpful databases, such as the CDC’s vaccine finder at https://www.vaccines.gov, allow people to narrow down searches by location and distributor — Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech or Johnson & Johnson.
Though some health care providers have found loopholes, coronavirus tests are also supposed to be free and available to everybody. Some commercial testing sites or urgent care facilities may still tack on additional fees. Due to murkier legislation around COVID-19 tests, the GDPH encourages people to call ahead and ensure that tests will be free before heading to one of these testing sites.
Free test appointments can also be made at multiple locations around Georgia through a partnership between Mako Medical and the GDPH. A full list of testing sites can be found at https://mako.exchange/splash/GAmakotesting/ and registration is open to insured and uninsured individuals.
- What happens if you’re charged
Federal law mandates free coronavirus testing and vaccines for everyone. However, any patient who receives a bill for a COVID-19 vaccine is encouraged to report it to the Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General Hotline at 1-800-HHS-TIPS. You can also file a complaint at https://oig.hhs.gov/fraud/report-fraud/
The HRSA also encourages uninsured patients to use the hotline if they get charged for office visits or any other care associated with coronavirus tests. Insured patients should contact both the testing facility and their insurance providers. All patients should also tell providers to process bills through the HRSA reimbursement program.
Still worried about the coronavirus vaccine?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have compiled a list of common myths and misconceptions about the vaccine. You can read them by visiting https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/facts.html
This story was produced by the Covering Poverty project, which is part of the Journalism Writing Lab, an initiative of the Cox Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management and Leadership at the University of Georgia.
This story and others will become part of an online toolkit, coveringpoverty.uga.edu, which is devoted to helping journalists across the country cover meaningful stories about people and poverty-related matters.