HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra on Wednesday warned providers they must administer COVID-19 vaccines free to patients.
In a letter to providers and insurers, Becerra said providers cannot require patients to get additional medical services to receive a vaccine or charge them a fee if a vaccine dose is the only medical service they provide. Instead, they can bill Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance or other health coverage to cover the costs of administering a vaccine. They can also bill the Health Resources and Services Administration if patients are uninsured or underinsured.
"If providers accidentally billed and received payments from patients for COVID-19 vaccine-related fees, those payments should immediately be returned to their patients," the letter said.
HHS' Office of the Inspector General could penalize providers if they break the rules.
The letter also reminded insurers that federal rules require them to cover COVID-19 vaccines and diagnostic testing with no out-of-pocket costs for their beneficiaries. In addition, group health plans and health insurers cannot delay COVID-19 diagnostic testing or make it more difficult or costly through prior authorization or other tactics.
"Health plans and health insurers failing to comply with these legal requirements may be reported to appropriate state insurance departments or to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for possible enforcement action. The Department of Labor will also address any complaints regarding coverage offered in connection with private, employer-sponsored group health plans," the letter said.