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HHS Unveils Plan for COVID-19 Vaccine Access for Uninsured After PHE End

HHS has stockpiled doses of the shot to maintain COVID-19 vaccine access for the uninsured, leveraging partnerships with pharmacies and commitments from drugmakers.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released its plan to maintain COVID-19 vaccine access for the uninsured even after the end of the public health emergency (PHE) in May.

The HHS Bridge Access Program for COVID-19 Vaccines and Treatments program is a $1.1 billion public-private partnership between the agency, pharmacy chains, and drug manufacturers. In essence, HHS and the drug manufacturers will provide COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, like Paxlovid, to pharmacy chains, which will administer them to individuals who are uninsured.

This plan comes as the US braces for the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency on May 11, 2023. When that time comes, many of the safety net programs set up during the pandemic will sunset, leaving the private sector to take over. Most people with insurance will still be able to access free COVID-19 vaccines, and treatments for the virus will cost around as much as treatments for other viruses.

But individuals without insurance could be left in the lurch, many experts have acknowledged, prompting HHS to this plan.

The topline item from the HHS Bridge Access Program for COVID-19 Vaccines and Treatments is the public-private partnership between the agency, pharmacy chains, and drugmakers. Through the partnership, those pharmacy chains will be able to continue to provide the shots free of charge to individuals without insurance.

Particularly, CDC will pay pharmacies per dose to help administer the vaccines or treatments to individuals who are uninsured.

At the crux of the program are the drug manufacturers who make the COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, HHS indicated. The agency said drug manufacturers have made public and private commitments to make these items available to the uninsured at no cost. In turn, HHS is taking on the work of working directly with the pharmacies, the agency said.

There will also be administrative legwork for pharmacies, HHS explained. Pharmacies will be given a one-time base payment to target areas with poor patient access to care and low vaccination rates.

In turn, pharmacies will be responsible for oversight, including monitoring patient attestations of uninsurance. Pharmacies will also be in charge of patient outreach.

The Bridge Access Program’s second component bolsters existing public sector options.

The CDC will purchase COVID-19 vaccines and distribute them nationwide to 64 state and local health department awardees. Those awardees will then pass along vaccines to local health departments and Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) health centers.

HRSA will also continue to provide support to its network of health centers.

HHS confirmed that the government will receive a discount when purchasing the COVID-19 products involved in the plan.

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