Despite the coronavirus vaccine being ‘free,’ you may still incur some costs

Dr. Anthony Fauci receives his COVID vaccine, but is it really free for everybody?
Photo via NIAID/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • The vaccine might be free, but the logistics and storage might not
  • Insurance plans that existed before ACA might have loopholes
  • The potential repeal of Obamacare could affect how much you pay, as well

The better part of 2020 has been occupied not just by coronavirus, but also by the prospect of a possible vaccine. Even from the outset, lawmakers were bent on making the COVID vaccine free to the public. While it may be “free,” there are still some ways you could incur some costs for getting inoculated.

The U.S. federal government has largely shouldered the cost of purchasing doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Novavax, and Johnson & Johnson. The cost of each dose varies by manufacturer, from as low as $3 to as high as $37. This price, for the vaccine itself, will not be taken on by recipients of the vaccine. In that sense, the COVID vaccine is free. However, the costs for materials to deliver the vaccine in a hospital or clinic, for storage, and for labor could be passed on to you.

Legislation passed in the spring barring insurers from charging a fee for the vaccine doesn’t apply to any loopholes which have already become apparent in COVID-19 testing.

But surprise fees have somehow been working themselves out of the pockets of Americans since the pandemic arrived.

The reason these billing loopholes exist is the “grandfathering” of health insurance plans. According to the New York Times, these plans which existed before the Affordable Care Act are exempt from its rules, including the supplementary CARES Act which was an add-on to the ACA. People still using these plans may still be liable for costs associated with the coronavirus vaccine, unless their insurer— like Aetna or Blue Cross Blue Shield— has decided to cover all costs independently of the act.

For the uninsured, providers have been directed to report vaccination costs to the Provider Relief Fund created in the spring of 2020. However, only $30 billion of the original $175 billion remains as of Nov. 10, and no additional source of funding has appeared. 

Other types of charges may be incurred depending on what your insurer has decided to cover in relation to coronavirus. Some have chosen to cover visit or facility fees, while others have not. 

Additional concerns stem from the prospect of an Obamacare repeal. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in November for a case seeking to end the ACA. If the act is repealed, insurers can opt to cover the costs associated with vaccination, or they can pass those along to customers. Either way, they will no longer be required to cover COVID-19 preventative care or testing. 

Read more on the coronavirus vaccine:

Sources: Healthline, New York Times, CNET

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