On March 22, the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) COVID-19 Uninsured Program stopped accepting claims for testing and treatment due to lack of sufficient funds. Coming up on April 5, the HRSA COVID-19 Uninsured Program and the COVID-19 Assistance Fund will also stop accepting vaccination claims due to a lack of sufficient funds.
“States get treatments for COVID-19 through the feds, they might be challenged in purchasing those treatments in the future,” Deputy Director Dr. Laurie Forlano with the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Epidemiology told 8News. “Theoretically, also, a lack of funding could hamper our ability as states and a country to conduct the state-of-the art disease surveillance that we do, and we need that in place in order to detect new variants, watch trends very closely and accurately, et cetera.”
In March, U.S. Congress did not pass $22.5 billion in emergency funding for COVID-19. According to a spokesperson for Richmond and Henrico Health Districts (RHHD), one of the items no longer possible without this funding is reimbursing providers for testing and vaccinations for those individuals who are uninsured.
“Generally speaking, safety net providers (who often are government or non-profit entities and less reliant on reimbursement from insurance companies) will continue to offer services to the uninsured,” RHHD Public Information Officer Cat Long said. “Private providers may continue to offer testing/vaccination, but will no longer be able to be reimbursed by the federal government for providing these services to the uninsured and will thus have to cover the costs. Some private providers may choose to not take uninsured patients or will require uninsured patients to pay out-of-pocket.”
Dr. Forlano said that it’s too soon to predict exactly how this will effect Virginians, particularly those who are uninsured, and seeking COVID-19 testing, vaccination or treatment. However, she noted that a potential impact of this funding ending is that it could put more pressure on so-called safety net providers, such as VDH.
“If private providers can no longer submit claims to that program, they may make the choice, because it is a financial risk, to not provide that service any longer, and so the safety net would need to absorb that,” she said. “In order to stop transmission of a virus like this or really keep it at bay, you need to make sure there’s access to these preventative measures for everyone.”
One such private provider is CVS Health, which has been offering COVID-19 testing and vaccination. 8News reached out for information on how the HRSA’s halted reimbursement claims would impact the provider.
“We’re fully confident the administration and Congress will find a solution to help ensure people without insurance continue to have access to COVID-19 testing, vaccines and treatment,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “As demonstrated throughout the pandemic, we’re committed to working closely with federal and state officials to provide access to testing, treatments and vaccines to help support the communities we serve.”
According to a notice on the lack of funding from the White House, the Biden Administration is requesting that Congress provides authority to ensure access to Medicare and insurance coverage for treatments under an Emergency Use Authorization, in addition to providing $22.5 billion in immediate emergency funding.
“Really, not much has changed for us since this announcement, other than we’re doing some kind of tweaking to our future planning, contingency planning,” Dr. Forlano said. “For now, I think we still have the right infrastructure in place. But we’re definitely looking forward to the future and thinking about how we might need to change our game. Hopefully, this decision in and of itself won’t cause a spike [in transmission] right now.”