As COVID-19 funding for those without health insurance expires, state and local health agencies seek to fill the void

People without health insurance can now be charged for COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccination depending on where they seek these services.

Federal funding for the Federal Health Resources and Services Administration that paid for COVID-19 testing and treatment for people without health insurance has dried up. Next week, HRSA funds for vaccines for people without health insurance will also end.

The change means that some hospitals, clinics and laboratories that provided free COVID-19 services to people without insurance will start charging.

However, not all options for free tests and vaccines are disappearing.

Thanks to other federal funding sources and grant programs from Washington State agencies, free COVID-19 testing and vaccinations will continue to be available to all Washingtonians in the future.

There are approximately 465,000 people in Washington who don’t have health insurance, and Washington lawmakers have paved the way for that to change in the coming years.

During the pandemic, in Spokane and the Spokane Valley alone, labs, hospitals, clinics and health care providers requested more than $7.2 million in reimbursement from HRSA to provide testing, COVID-19 treatments and vaccinations to people without health insurance, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Providence provided $3.2 million in tests, treatments and vaccines to uninsured people in Spokane and the Spokane Valley, according to CDC data. MultiCare provided $1.2 million in tests, treatments and vaccines to uninsured people in Spokane and the Spokane Valley.

Both hospital systems have financial assistance programs that were in place before the pandemic and will continue despite the change in federal funding.

“If a patient does not have insurance, we will work with them to identify possible insurance options and assess their eligibility for our financial assistance program,” MultiCare spokesperson Kevin Maloney said in the statement. an email. “We encourage community members to check with their local health departments for testing and vaccination locations.”

Incyte Diagnostics, which processes COVID-19 tests in its labs, received $1.6 million for treatment and testing of uninsured people, CDC data shows.

Now, public health agencies and federally qualified health centers will likely have to fill the void to provide free COVID-19 tests and vaccines to people without health insurance.

When the HRSA announced federal funding was not being replenished, state agencies were given days to respond.

At the Health Care Authority in Washington, a separate program authorized by the legislature could play a timely role in filling the provider void.

The Uninsured Care Expansion grant program was planned before the agency knew HRSA funding would end. Now, federally qualified health centers, rural clinics, public hospital districts and community organizations can apply for these grants to help provide services to people without health insurance.

The Health Care Authority created the grant program with $35 million in federal funding to help cover uninsured people at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. Eligible healthcare providers can apply for the grant program until April 15.

State health officials from the Washington Department of Health praised the grant program for its potential to fill the gap.

Assistant Secretary Lacy Fehrenbach encouraged Washington residents without health insurance to try to cover themselves if possible.

“If you remain uninsured, there are still options available,” Fehrenbach said Wednesday, adding that many state and local COVID-19 screening and vaccination clinics will remain open to everyone.

In Spokane County, community testing sites are funded by money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which covers anyone seeking to get tested, regardless of their insured status.

FEMA funding for COVID-19 response efforts is not ending and will cover 100% of eligible expenses through July 1, Spokane Regional Health District spokeswoman Kelli Hawkins said in a statement. an email. Even after that date, reimbursement is expected to continue at 90% from FEMA.

Additionally, vaccination clinics offered by the Spokane Regional Health District or the Department of Health Care-A-Vans are also free to everyone, regardless of insured status.

Hawkins confirmed that immunization clinic funds are also unaffected by the depletion of HRSA funds.

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