ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Some New Mexicans got a surprise in the mail this week when they received a bill for the COVID-19 vaccine. The CARES Act ensures the vaccine is free, regardless of your insurance status, but some say they were still billed.
When Kim Federici received her vaccination appointment notice two weeks ago from the New Mexico Department of Health, she was assigned to Optum Health’s Journal Center clinic. This weekend, she was shocked to get a bill in the mail for $34, charging her for the administration of the vaccine.
“I was a little confused and I went online. I knew Congress had passed a few laws about this so I looked it up and according to the CARES Act, whether you have Medicare, Medicaid, no insurance, it’s completely free,” said Federici. “They could attempt to bill your insurance but you’re not responsible for any deductible or anything. Congress put aside money to pay for this administration fee. They’re not allowed to charge you.”
Federici says Optum was the clinic site she was assigned to and despite having insurance from a different provider, she was never asked for proof. Monday morning, she called Optum and told them about the balance.
“She asked how she could help me and I said I had this balance. She just said, ‘okay,’ and I said, ‘you’re not allowed to charge for this,'” recalled Federici. “Then she hesitated and said, ‘oh, okay. I’ll remove this from your account.’ I said, ‘you know, other people have been getting these bills, I’ve heard,’ and then she went on to explain that it’s a glitch in their system. If you don’t put in insurance, it automatically bills you.”
Federici says it was a no-brainer for her to jump online and research it. However, she worries about those like the elderly who may not have that access or know not to pay a vaccine bill. “There’s enough stress and anxiety around the whole COVID anyway, so I feel they should send a letter out or even put a sign when you go for the vaccine. Like, if you get a bill, you don’t have to pay it or ignore it. It’s a little frustrating for these poor people,” said Federici. “It’s 34 bucks, so we’re not talking $150 but still, I just think, you know, it’s hard enough for the elderly just to get on the computer, or to get to their vaccine or even be called up for the vaccine.”
The state’s Superintendent of Insurance says you should not be billed and if you do get one in the mail, call their hotline at 1-833-415-0566. They issued the following statement regarding the vaccines.
Providers are not permitted to charge patients or insurers for any vaccine, as the vaccines have been purchased using federal funds. Providers may charge a fee to cover the costs of administering the vaccine, but the charge cannot be passed on to patients, nor can Providers charge a patient for the office visit. These charges must be billed to the health plan. Uninsured patients cannot be denied access to the vaccine; providers who serve the uninsured can be reimbursed through the CARES Act’s Provider Relief Fund.”
KRQE News 13 reached out to Optum Health to find out how the glitch happened and they sent the following statement Monday night:
We apologize that some people have received a bill due to an administrative error. Patients do not need to pay fees associated with COVID-19 vaccinations and can disregard bills received related to their vaccine. We have addressed the issue and encourage anyone with questions to call us at 505-232-1000.”