News Release

Many Uninsured People Could Lose Access to Free COVID-19 Testing, Treatment, and Vaccines as Federal Funding Runs Out

With an impasse in Congress over additional COVID-19 emergency funding, uninsured people could lose access to free testing and treatment services, a new KFF brief explains.

For people without health insurance, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) COVID-19 Uninsured Program has reimbursed hospitals, doctors and other providers for the COVID-19 care and services that they provide to uninsured people. However, with federal funds running out, the program is no longer accepting new claims for testing and treatment services and will stop accepting claims for administering vaccines on April 5.

Many uninsured individuals would likely need to pay out of pocket for testing and some treatment services or rely on safety-net providers absorbing those additional costs without any way to get reimbursed. So long as supplies remain available, vaccines would continue to be paid for by the federal government and people could not be charged, but vaccine providers would not get paid for administering vaccines to uninsured people and could restrict access. This could exacerbate existing racial and ethnic disparities, as people of color are more likely than their White counterparts to be uninsured and face other potential barriers to accessing care.

The brief also outlines how the federal government has used previously authorized funds to purchase COVID-19 tests, medications, and vaccines, and the implications for efforts to help ensure equitable access to and ongoing availability of these resources as that funding runs out.

For people with health coverage, including Medicare and Medicaid, existing rules and protections will ensure that they will continue to have access to COVID-19 tests, treatment, and vaccines, though some limits on cost sharing will end when the ongoing federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency ends. If the federal government is no longer able to pre-purchase tests, treatment medications, and vaccines, supplies may run short if and when the next COVID-19 wave hits and demand increases.

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The independent source for health policy research, polling, and news, KFF is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, California.