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Federal money is running out for COVID testing, treatment and vaccinations for the uninsured

Under a pandemic program, the federal government has reimbursed Michigan health care providers for nearly $131 million spent on COVID-19 treatment, testing and vaccination for uninsured patients, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

However, they are unlikely to receive further assistance.

The fund has run out and the agency stopped accepting requests for testing or treatment on March 22. For administering vaccines, the Health Administration stopped issuing payments on April 5, just as Michigan began to see an increase in reported new COVID-19 cases. Hospitalizations, while still well below the peak number, rose this month for the first time since January.

Most of the money, about $78 million, was spent on testing. About $41 million covered treatment and nearly $12 million paid for administering the vaccine, according to the most recent data, updated March 3.

Medicaid continues to cover services for free for enrollees and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services was exploring options for those without insurance, state health department spokesman Bob Wheaton wrote. in an email earlier this month. When questioned, he did not provide any other information.

“Hospitals will treat anyone who enters the hospital, regardless of their insurance status. However, we are concerned that patients may not seek the care they need for COVID-19 if they fear they cannot afford that care,” the Michigan Health and Hospital Association responded in a statement.

Rural providers and those in underserved communities, meaning areas with minority populations or people experiencing health disparities, will be more affected, the association reported.

“MHA is actively advocating with the Michigan congressional delegation on the importance of long-term reimbursement solutions to help both patients and hospitals in underserved communities.”

President Joe Biden’s administration in March requested additional resources, including $22.5 billion in emergency funding, according to the White House. Congress did not act.

Vaccines remain free and provided by the federal government, but the United States no longer pays for labor and other costs associated with administering vaccines, authorities said.

Below is a database of Michigan vendors who have received refunds.

Don’t see the database? Click here.

Advanced Health Pharmacy in Portage received, in early March, about $58,000 for administering COVID inoculations to uninsured people.

Owner and pharmacist Arun Tandon said the independent pharmacy has administered more than 10,000 injections since the pandemic began. The pharmacy received a grant to travel to underserved areas and vaccinate people. Employees set up vaccination camps in churches and outside. They visited homes when disabilities or other barriers prevented people from going to a clinic or pharmacy.

If uninsured people are coming to his pharmacy now, he won’t discriminate, Tandon said.

“If someone comes in and they need a vaccine, I’m okay,” he said.

It cannot do the same with lab tests. The lab processing the specimens is asking for reimbursement and they don’t want to cover the $165 cost, he said. He is sure that they were obliged to refuse people who did not have insurance.

There are, however, other testing options that the pharmacy can provide, he noted.

At most, Advantage was performing around 500 tests per day.

It has since slowed down. The number of people arriving for tests and vaccines has dropped dramatically, he said.

According to state data, fewer people started their first round of vaccines last week — about 4,700 — than in any week of the pandemic. About 72,000 people received reminders.

Packard Health, a nonprofit organization and federally qualified health center with sites in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, has submitted claims for reimbursement to HRSA but has not received any payments, said Oryanna Diem, director nursing and coronavirus response coordinator.

“If we don’t get reimbursed, our general operating funds will have to cover that,” Diem said. “And we haven’t budgeted for that, which is not ideal.”

Although many seem to have moved on, it remains a public health crisis, and she too fears that people will be discouraged from seeking tests or vaccines if they think there is a cost. People who can’t afford surprises aren’t going to put themselves in a position to be shocked by bills.

“The data shows that people who have less are more affected by COVID,” Diem said. “So it’s definitely a concern, but we’re not going to stop. We’ll find ways to deliver it.

Grand Rapids-based retailer Meijer, which partnered with the state in January 2021 to deliver vaccines, received significantly more money — about $7 million — than any other vaccine supplier. Kroger was No. 2. In total, the government reimbursed the Ohio-headquartered grocer for about $784,000. (In the database, Kroger is listed more than once.)

MinuteClinic, part of CVS Health, based in Rhode Island and owner of thousands of CVS pharmacies, raised the most for the tests – about $5.6 million. Orchard Laboratories, based in West Bloomfield, was reimbursed for approximately $4.8 million. Waterford Township’s ARK lab, now known as Helix Diagnostics, received approximately $3.5 million.

Large state health systems, which together saw thousands of COVID patients during the pandemic swell, received the largest sums for treating uninsured residents. Spectrum Health, also based in Grand Rapids, was reimbursed approximately $3.4 million. Detroit-based Henry Ford Health was second with nearly $3 million in reimbursements and Southfield’s Beaumont Health received about $2.7 million.

The hospital association noted that hospitals have assistance funds for the uninsured and those who cannot pay their medical bills. They also help eligible patients obtain coverage through the Healthy Michigan Plan and other opportunities.

“We would like to emphasize that anyone facing a medical emergency should seek treatment immediately.”

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