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Bill would guarantee access to free COVID-19 vaccine for Medicare beneficiaries

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Bipartisan legislation introduced in Congress this week would ensure seniors on traditional Medicare have access to a future COVID-19 vaccine without cost-sharing.

U.S. Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07) and Dusty Johnson (R-SD) introduced the Securing Affordable Vaccines Equally (SAVE) for Seniors Act.

The CARES Act, which became law in March, requires Medicare to cover a COVID-19 vaccine without any cost-sharing for the beneficiary, beginning on the date that said vaccine is licensed under Section 351 of the Public Health Service Act.

However, due to the urgency of the ongoing pandemic, the most likely pathway to market for a COVID-19 vaccine is through an Emergency Use Authorization, under Section 564 of the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) raised concerns that due to language in the CARES Act, traditional Medicare beneficiaries might face cost-sharing for a COVID-19 vaccine that is authorized for emergency use under the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act.

The SAVE for Seniors Act would clarify that Medicare must cover – without cost-sharing – a COVID-19 vaccine authorized for emergency use, just as it would have done for one licensed under the Public Health Service Act.

By closing this loophole, the legislation ensures that seniors are not the only group who must pay out-of-pocket for a COVID-19 vaccine. Nearly all private insurers have committed to covering a COVID-19 vaccination for free, and Medicaid is required to do so at no cost.

“Seniors are the most vulnerable to COVID-19, and ensuring that older Americans have affordable, easy access to a vaccine must be a top priority,” said Spanberger. “This bill would correct a critical error in the CARES Act that could inadvertently force Medicare beneficiaries to pay out of pocket for a COVID-19 vaccine. As multiple pharmaceutical companies conduct drug trials on potential vaccines and public health experts warn about a cold-weather resurgence of the coronavirus, correcting this error is an urgent need. Cost shouldn’t be a prohibitive barrier for any American looking to protect themselves with a vaccine, and I’m proud to work quickly – and on a bipartisan basis – to make sure seniors in Central Virginia and across the country can count on a free COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is available.”

“South Dakota has seen firsthand how quickly this virus can impact on our seniors,” said Johnson. “Making sure that as many people as possible can receive a safe COVID-19 vaccine is critical, and our bill will ensure the vaccine is covered for South Dakota seniors.”

The SAVE for Seniors Act is cosponsored by Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA-06), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI-08), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-08).

Click here to read the full bill text.

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