Insurance-exempt and cost-share free, a new bill introduced to the Senate this week would waive any costs for Americans in need of a COVID-19 vaccine, whenever one emerges.
Introduced by U.S. Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) and co-sponsored by U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Michael Bennet (D-CO), the Free COVID-19 Treatment Act seeks equality in distribution and protection from the disease. This is especially important, according to Smith, because of the more than 5.4 million Americans that have lost health insurance since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Coupled with costs of the treatment itself, Smith said uncertainty would disproportionately impact communities of color.
“Whenever a vaccine is developed—and I hope it is soon—everyone in this country should be able to get it, free of charge, regardless of insurance status,” Smith said. “My bill, the COVID-19 Treatment Coverage Act, will help protect Americans from COVID-19 expenses so that they can get the care they need without worrying about how they are going to afford it.”
The U.S. has been racked by the highest percentage increase of uninsured people in U.S. history and experienced some of its largest unemployment increases in history.
Pulling provisions from the House-advanced HEROES Act, the bill would require treatment to be covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and cost-sharing to be prohibited. Medicaid could be expanded in states to meet the cost of the treatment and guarantee the vaccine’s disbursement to the uninsured. Medicare prescription drug plans would likewise have to eliminate cost-sharing for COVID-19 drugs and be prohibited from requiring prior authorization for treatment.
Commercial insurers would also be barred from demanding cost-sharing to necessary services and items linked to COVID-19 treatment. TRICARE beneficiaries, veterans, federal civilian employees, and recipients of Indian Health Service would likewise be exempt from copays and cost-sharing.
Further, some $25 million would be appropriated for outreach and enrollment in health insurance coverage and a special enrollment period for the federal insurance marketplace established.
These efforts have been backed by dozens of organizations throughout the country, from Families USA to the National Indian Health Board, the March of Dimes, and The Gerontological Society of America.