White House taps insurers to boost vaccinations among vulnerable communities

The Biden administration on Wednesday will announce a new initiative with health insurers to ensure some of their most high-risk customers get vaccinated against Covid-19, as the White House tries to energize lagging efforts to distribute the shots equitably.

The effort, organized by White House coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt and led by major lobby America’s Health Insurance Plans, is aiming to fully vaccinate 2 million people 65 and older from vulnerable communities over the next 100 days, according to AHIP.

The program, which will be announced at the White House, is essentially leveraging the work health plans already perform with high-risk patients, such as helping them book appointments, reminding them about follow-ups and arranging transportation. The White House hopes the new focus will help quicken the pace of vaccinations for the most vulnerable patients, as confusing appointment websites or overloaded queues increase the risk they’ll be left behind.

The 2 million goal may appear modest, given that nearly half of people 65 and older have already received one dose and the significant surge in vaccine supply expected in the coming weeks. However, participating insurers said they hoped it would guide broader efforts to vaccinate hard-to-reach populations, a key part of ensuring the country achieves herd immunity against the virus.

“As we get past 100 days, we’ll have a blueprint to share with others,” said Tonya Adams, who leads customer experience at Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon and is helping with the program’s logistics.

And an administration official said the program will be useful in setting a target to focus insurers so they can get at least 2 million vaccinated as soon as possible.

“We are pleased that health insurance companies — many of which have the technology and the relationships and the human resources to do it — have committed to help vulnerable Americans get their vaccinations,” Slavitt said in a statement.

How it will work: The effort will largely involve customers of private Medicare plans and low-income older adults who qualify for Medicare and Medicaid. Thirteen insurers are currently involved, according to AHIP.

The health plans will arrange vaccine sign-ups through state and local registries, work with their customers’ doctors or help people find out how to book appointments at local pharmacies.

Adams said the effort will begin in Arizona, California, Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota and other states with large numbers of people in areas that rank high on CDC’s social vulnerability index, which measures communities most in need of assistance based on factors like transportation access, housing conditions and minority status.

The White House isn’t setting aside additional funding for the effort. The government is already covering the full cost of coronavirus vaccines, and insurers must fully cover any costs associated with administering the shots.

How it came together: The announcement follows weeks of discussions between Slavitt and health plans about their role in improving equitable distribution, as people of color get vaccinated at much lower rates than whites. AHIP said the 2 million vaccination target has been set for weeks, though recent White House announcements about expanded vaccine supply could mean they reach the goal earlier than 100 days.

Still, some industry lobbyists have expressed concern that the White House hasn’t fully detailed the effort. Others told POLITICO they were concerned that involving health plans could slow an already complex rollout.

“Everyone’s looking for ways to go faster, but what if there isn’t an easy answer?” said one lobbyist working with health plans. “I think they’re trying to bring in more and more access points, but I don’t know that they’ll be better answers.”

Meanwhile, some insurers have been clamoring for months for access to federal vaccination data so they have better insight into which of their customers have been inoculated — and then prod those who haven’t. Health plans said they have limited claims data on shots since many are being administered for free at public sites, and claims for vaccine administration may not show up for weeks or months later.


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