How much COVID-19-related care did the federal government cover for the uninsured?
Since the expiration of funding for the COVID-19 uninsured program last Tuesday, the federal government will no longer cover the costs of COVID-19 treatment, testing, or vaccine administration for uninsured individuals. That means that these disadvantaged individuals will be subject to whatever hospitals and other providers charge for tests or care, which can be expected to lead to deferred care and medical debt for many.
The situation with vaccines is complex, because providers are not legally allowed to charge patients out-of-pocket fees for providing vaccines (which they get for free from the federal government), but can also no longer be reimbursed for the costs of administering them (e.g. for storage, nursing staff, etc.). So regardless of the ban on patient charging, it is hard to see how this will not effectively reduce vaccine access.
In any event, I have a piece coming out this week that explores these issues in greater detail, but here, I want to just present the basic figures about the value of this program for uninsured people. I analyzed CDC data on total payments to providers through the COVID-19 Uninsured Program, broken down by type of care, updated March 3, 2022. I then calculated the value of this care per uninsured person by dividing the totals by 31.6 million, the National Health Interview Survey’s figure for the number of uninsured in 2020.
In the last two years, uninsured people were covered for about $600 of COVID-19-related care — more than half of which was for testing. Means can be deceiving of course: the value is zero for many, and potentially in the tens of thousands of dollars for those, who, say, had a long hospitalization for COVID-19.