CMS hikes COVID-19 vaccine pay, broadens scope of providers to give jab

As the Biden administration ramps up its coronavirus vaccination effort, CMS has taken steps to encourage more providers to administer the doses, including increasing the reimbursement rate for Medicare patients.

The new rate, announced Monday, is about $40 per dose, meaning two-shot vaccines will total an $80 payout.

That’s an increase from about $28 per shot paid before Monday. It’s also quite a bit higher than the average of $25 per adult vaccine paid to providers from private insurers, according to an analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

KFF’s EVP for health policy, Larry Levitt, wrote on Twitter the amount the increased rate will cost the federal government is the worth the benefit to pushing more providers to administer the shots. “In the context of the havoc wrecked by the pandemic and the trillions spent to deal with it, the technical term is ‘chump change,'” he said.

The American Medical Association pushed for the higher reimbursement, which it said reflects new information about the costs involved in administering the vaccine. “This has been a trying time for physician practices, and we thank the administration for acknowledging the challenges of practicing medicine during a pandemic,” the group wrote in a statement.

The Biden administration made another change Friday that is aimed to make it easier for people to get the vaccine when it broadened the number of providers eligible to administer the shots to include dentists, optometrists, paramedics, healthcare students and retired medical professionals.

Marcella Nunez-Smith, chair of the administration’s COVID-19 equity task force, told reporters last week the change is also intended to improve the ability of traditionally underserved populations to receive the vaccine. “As we fight against centuries of structural inequities, we must be intentional about making vaccination easy and convenient for everyone, and key to that effort is having enough vaccinators to deliver shots in arms,” she said. “So I encourage my fellow healthcare colleagues to visit the new portal at PHE.gov. Check your status and sign up to help.”

Three vaccines are authorized for emergency use in the U.S. Pfizer-BioNtech’s and Moderna’s vaccines require two shots while Johnson & Johnson’s requires one. Data on an AstraZeneca vaccine are expected in the coming days. But while the shot is available in dozens of other countries and appear to meet the FDA’s requirements for authorization, its future is more murky.

The rate of vaccine administration in the U.S. has been improving, with the country setting a record Saturday at 3.2 million doses given. About 21% of the population has received at least one dose of a vaccine as of Monday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Biden last week, in a primetime speech marking one year since the coronavirus was declared a pandemic, encouraged states to open eligibility for the shot to all adults by May 1. Two states, Alaska and Mississippi, have already done so.

Frustrations with the rollout remain, however. Online patient registration in some areas has been unreliable at best. And many primary care providers who say they should have been on the front lines of distribution are still unable to tell if and when they’ll receive doses.

Group purchasing organization Premier said in a blog post Tuesday that more than half of its members still say vaccine availability is their greatest challenge