‘How Do You Say No?': Virginia Pharmacist Worried as Feds End Vaccine Payments for Uninsured

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A pharmacist in Northern Virginia says she's concerned for the uninsured in her community after receiving notice from the federal government that it will no longer reimburse pharmacies for COVID-19 vaccines and tests.

VanDorn Pharmacy in Alexandria has administered about 80,000 COVID-19 vaccines since they became more widely available in Jan. 2021.

The pharmacy said that it gave about half of the vaccines to people who did not have insurance.

"In the beginning, we wanted to save people’s lives," Pharmacist Yodit Gulelat told News4. "All we wanted was to care for people. We didn’t care about the payment."

The pharmacy, along with many others, signed up to receive reimbursements from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through its Provide Relief Bureau.

Gulelat said she and some other pharmacists were surprised to learn recently that the program is ending.

She said she received a notice informing her that soon she can no longer submit claims for uninsured patients.

The letter from the Health Resources and Services Administration states COVID-19 Uninsured Program will stop accepting claims beginning Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. for testing and treatment "due to a lack of sufficient funds." The program will then stop accepting claims for vaccinations beginning April 5 at 11: 59 p.m., according to the letter.

Gulelat said she's worried the uninsured won't know where to turn for shots. Her pharmacy serves many people of color and immigrants.

"We did vaccinate at least about 10, 15 people today - third dose. Fourth dose is coming, another variant is coming and a lot of those people are also, like, minorities who won’t have insurance. So, how do you say no to them?"

News4 contacted Sen. Mark Warner’s office with questions, and a spokesperson for him said that while uninsured people can no longer go to pharmacies and medical providers for COVID shots, “Uninsured Virginians will still be able to access testing and vaccines free of cost through their local government thanks to strong funding provided by Congress to state health departments, federally qualified health centers, and rural health clinics.”

But come April 5, Gulelat said she will have a hard time turning the uninsured away.

'How am I going to say no to them? 'Go ahead and die?' … That’s not how we started," she said.

Gulelat is also concerned she may never get reimbursement for COVID shots her pharmacy has already given as there are still hundreds of backlogged claims to file.

The notice she received warns, "Submitted claims will be paid subject to availability of funds."

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