The Trump administration this week will announce a plan to cover the out-of-pocket costs of Covid-19 vaccines for millions of Americans who receive Medicare or Medicaid, said four people with knowledge of the pending announcement.
Under the planned rule, Medicare and Medicaid will now cover vaccines that receive emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, the people said, which is a change from current policy. The regulations, which have been under development for weeks, are likely to be announced by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Tuesday or Wednesday.
At least two Covid-19 vaccine developers have said they plan to apply for an emergency use authorization before the end of the year.
The administration is “working to ensure that no American has to pay for the vaccine,” said one official. The administration’s planned rule also will address other Covid-19-related issues, like expanding flexibility for Medicaid patients seeking care for the coronavirus, two people familiar with the plan said.
CMS did not respond to a request for comment about the plan or how it would pay for the cost of vaccines for the roughly 120 million Americans who receive health coverage through Medicare and Medicaid.
CMS Administrator Seema Verma teased the announcement earlier this month in remarks at the HLTH virtual conference.
“I think we’ve figured out a path forward,” Verma said on Oct. 13. “It was very clear that Congress wants to make sure that Medicare beneficiaries have this vaccine and that there isn’t any cost-sharing.”
“And so, stay tuned, you’ll see more from the agency on this very shortly,” Verma added.
Congress in March sought to mandate free coronavirus vaccine coverage as part of a broader Covid-19 relief bill. But under its current rules, the Medicare program doesn’t cover the cost of drugs authorized under emergency use designations — leaving millions of Americans at risk of facing expenses tied to the vaccine.
The Trump administration later determined that it could not fix the loophole through an executive order, setting off a scramble within the health department to find alternative solutions.
Earlier this month, the administration struck a deal with CVS and Walgreens to administer an eventual vaccine with no out-of-pocket costs to seniors and health workers in long-term care facilities. Yet that arrangement only covered a narrow slice of the nation’s more than 60 million Medicare enrollees.