One in an occasional series of editorials addressing hesitations about the COVID-19 vaccines.
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The COVID-19 vaccine is free. For patients, there are no out-of-pocket expenses. No copay. No coinsurance. No office visit fee. No bill even if you haven't met your annual deductible.
It doesn't matter if you have health insurance or you don't. Or if you're a senior enrolled in Medicare. Or if you're younger and rely on the state's Medical Assistance program or MinnesotaCare. An individual's cost to get the shots is $0, period, because the federal government is providing the vaccines free of charge to every American. That includes the associated costs of getting it.
And yet mistaken concerns about costs persist among the reasons for COVID vaccine hesitancy, particularly among seniors. Last month, an insurance industry analysis of U.S. census data had an alarming finding: A significant number of older adults reported refraining from vaccination due to the incorrect belief it will cost money.
A deeper dive into the weekly data, which was gathered by the census' Household Pulse Survey, found this misperception is more deeply rooted among seniors in several states, including our own. "Minnesota, Nevada and Pennsylvania display the highest rates per capita of seniors avoiding the vaccine out of mistaken notions over the cost."
The census data suggests that other age groups unfortunately have mistaken notions about the shots' price tag, too. In Minnesota, the concerns are particularly acute among those ages 25-39.
Ending the pandemic hinges on getting as many eligible people vaccinated as possible. Misperceptions about financial barriers slow this progress and could well endanger someone's life with the virus continuing to circulate. That's why the Star Tribune Editorial Board's "Our Best Shot" series on vaccine hesitancy is spotlighting this issue and has tapped the expertise of Dr. Kevin Gilliam, a family medicine physician and associate medical director at NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center in Minneapolis.
NorthPoint is part of the state's "community health center" network. Its mission is a noble one: providing primary and preventive care to patients for whom affordability, lack of insurance, distance or language may be barriers. Community health centers aren't limited to the metro. They serve cities across the state such as Willmar, Floodwood and Tofte.
NorthPoint has vaccinated over 11,000 patients so far. An important part of the outreach message: "The only thing that we require that people spend or invest is their time to come and get the shot," Gilliam said.
Anyone can seek care at NorthPoint and other community health centers. But the shot should be free no matter if it's given at a pharmacy, a hospital, a clinic or a retailer. Gilliam added that shot seekers shouldn't be deterred if a medical provider asks for insurance information.
You will still get the shot if you don't have insurance. You will not get a bill if you do have it and share your insurance information. Providers such as NorthPoint may ask for the information because they can seek reimbursement from insurers for giving the vaccine. But the cost, Gilliam emphasized, is not passed onto patients.
To those still fearful of a bill, "The simple answer would be, 'Don't worry,' " Gilliam said. "We have a mandate to make sure that those who seek the vaccination are not billed for it."
The Minnesota Council of Health Plans, the state's health insurance trade group, amplified Gilliam's important message on Wednesday. "The COVID-19 vaccine should be covered and administered at no cost. As such, member health plans will waive copays, deductibles and coinsurance," CEO Lucas Nesse said in a statement.
Gilliam also noted that eligibility for the COVID vaccine now includes anyone age 16 and up. Vaccination doesn't just protect individuals, Gilliam said. It safeguards loved ones, friends and our community. "It's about being a good citizen to those we might come in contact with … and it's paramount to be able to get back to some semblance of a new normal."
ABOUT THIS SERIES
The faster we vaccinate, the faster the COVID-19 pandemic ends. But the speed with which the shots were developed has led to understandable questions. The Editorial Board's #OurBestShot series enlists Minnesota health and community leaders to deliver timely, trustworthy answers.
Here's a collection of articles, videos and other resources presented so far, with more planned:
Editorial: The big risk is in not getting vaccinated (March 28).
Video: Dr. Greg Poland of the Mayo Clinic discusses the potential side effects of the vaccines, and explains why the risks and impacts are low.
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Editorial: Communities of color face unique vaccination fears (April 4).
Video: M Health Fairview, in a conversation with leaders of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities in the Twin Cities, addresses questions and concerns about the vaccines.
Frequently asked questions: A report from the Sahan Journal, a trusted St. Paul-based source of news and information for migrant and immigrant communities, provides and wealth of vaccine information while also dispelling rumors that the shots contain pork or other products not considered halal.
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Editorial: Needle phobia? There's help available to deal with fear (April 11).
Video: A fear of needles "shouldn't be something people feel embarrassed about." A conversation with Dr. Andrew Slattengren, a veteran medical provider and president of the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians,
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Editorial: Young and healthy? That's no excuse for skipping vaccination (April 19).
Video: A conversation with Dr. George Morris of St. Cloud-based CentraCare on misperceptions about two stubborn misperceptions that lead to COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board operates independently of the newsroom and is not involved in setting newsroom policies or in reporting or editing articles in other sections of the newspaper or StarTribune.com.