In-Depth: Who pays for the COVID-19 vaccine?

Will Americans have any costs to get vaccinated?
Posted at 5:59 AM, Feb 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-18 22:56:19-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - San Diego County is nearing a half-million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine being administered, with daily numbers for vaccine appointments rising.

It's taken a herculean effort to reach this point, with super stations, point-of-distribution (POD) sites, and individual hospitals and clinics all contributing to the effort.

All of that costs money, and ABC 10News looked into who pays for what.

According to a county spokesperson, right now the county is footing the bill for the super stations and PODs, with the expectation the federal government will reimburse the county, either through CARES Act funding or the Families First Act money. The county hasn't released figures for how much each vaccine site costs.

As for the shots themselves, the CDC says:

"Vaccine doses purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars will be given to the American people at no cost. However, vaccination providers can charge an administration fee for giving someone the shot. Vaccination providers can be reimbursed for this by the patient’s public or private insurance company or, for uninsured patients, by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund. No one can be denied a vaccine if they are unable to pay the vaccine administration fee."

That means people who can get an appointment at one of the county-run sites won't have to pay a dime for their vaccine.

But many San Diegans will get their shots at their doctor's office or another local clinic, which may charge for the office visit or other costs associated with administering the vaccine.

Among the three major healthcare providers in the region, Kaiser Permanente says there will be no cost whatsoever for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Sharp HealthCare's website the shots will have no cost, and any administrative costs associated with an office or clinic visit will be billed to insurance. Their website says there will be "no out-of-pocket costs associated with getting the vaccine."

Scripps HealthCare also says they will bill insurance for any administrative costs, and the federal government will cover the cost for the shot.

Billing to insurance may affect some people who have a high-deductible plan if they haven't met that amount for the year. But many plans will cover those costs as part of their preventative care coverage.

But there are also an estimated216,000 people in San Diego without insurance. Family Health Centers CEO Fran Butler says organizations like hers are working to make sure they get the vaccine without having to pay anything.

"The response that we were getting is, 'I was waiting for you guys to get the vaccine,'" Butler-Cohen says. "I think that says at all. They're not comfortable going to these mega vaccination stations."

Butler-Cohen says Family Health Centers plans to offer no-cost vaccines at four locations across the county, targeting low-income areas where people are less likely to have insurance.

"I think it's very important to go to where the people are, in historic communities in San Diego," Butler-Cohen says. "They trust their health care providers and we're there for them."

For more information about getting a vaccine, visit the County website here.