Attorney General James calls for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccine

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In this June 11, 2019 file photo, New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a news conference in New York. James says a bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general is investigating Facebook for alleged antitrust issues. James said Friday, Sept. 6, the probe will look into whether Facebook’s actions endangered consumer data, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices or increased the price of advertising. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

NEW YORK (NEWS10) – New York Attorney General Letitia James led a coalition of 13 state attorneys general to urge Congress to arrange funding and coverage protections to guarantee all United States residents are able to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine at no cost. Black, Latino, Native Americans, and senior communities are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, and are also more likely to be on Medicare, Medicaid, or uninsured.

In the joint letter, the coalition calls on Congress to create an interim rule providing the vaccine to Medicare recipients at no cost, to properly fund programs for the uninsured to cover administrative fees, and to increase financial support for Medicaid.

“An end to the COVID-19 pandemic is in sight, but we cannot rid this disease without equitable vaccine access,” said Attorney General James. “We must ensure there are no economic barriers to people receiving this lifesaving vaccine, especially those in communities most devastated by the pandemic. Every person in this country deserves free and fast access to the vaccines, and we remain committed to ensuring that happens.”

Recent reports show that 16% of American adults are uninsured, 19% of Americans are insured under Medicare, and 21% of Americans are insured under Medicaid. Americans insured under Medicare, Medicaid, and those who are uninsured are more likely to be Americans of color, whose communities are hardest hit by the pandemic.

For example, one-third of Black Americans are insured under Medicaid, and Latinos are three times more likely to be uninsured than their white counterparts. Black Americans experienced a significantly greater COVID-19 infection rate and three times higher mortality rate than their white counterparts; while Latinos have had nearly three times as many COVID-19 cases as their white counterparts, and have a significantly higher hospitalization rate.

The joint letter lays out three actions for Congress to take in order to ensure equitable access to the vaccines:

  • Congress should codify the recent Center for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS) Interim Final Rule allowing any vaccine authorized by the Food and Drug Administration to be covered at no cost to Medicare beneficiaries
  • The Provider Relief Fund, which gives uninsured individuals access to the vaccine, must also cover co-pay or out of pocket fees, as well as costs for outreach to uninsured communities
  • Congress should provide states with additional financial assistance to supplement the Family First Coronavirus Response Act by ensuring that payment rates to providers are sufficient to allow Medicaid recipients to access the vaccine at no cost and providers to perform outreach to vulnerable communities

The exact costs of the vaccines for patients remain unknown. However, studies have shown that individuals who are insured under Medicaid have lower vaccination rates than those with private health insurance.

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