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Insurers to Help At-Risk Older Americans Get COVID-19 Vaccines

Pilot program to target 2 million insured people age 65+ living in vulnerable communities

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If you are age 65 or older and have had trouble booking an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine, you may become one of 2 million older adults who will receive a phone call from your health insurance company offering to help you get vaccinated.

So far, 15 health insurance organizations have signed on to the Vaccine Community Connects pilot program. Beginning this week, these insurers will reach out to their members, with a focus on people living in the country's most at-risk vulnerable and underserved areas, including African American and Hispanic communities. How quickly people are contacted will depend upon the availability of vaccine doses.

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"The most vulnerable people in our country have suffered disproportionately from the COVID-19 crisis, and we are determined to end this inequity,” says Kim Keck, president and CEO of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA). “Through this initiative, we are committing our unique resources — our people, our data and our enduring community ties — to quickly and equitably bring life-saving vaccines to those who need them most.”

How the program will work

Most people who are 65 and older get their health insurance through Medicare, so to start the pilot program will reach out to those who are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan. MA is the private insurance alternative to Original Medicare. In addition, people on Original Medicare who have a supplemental insurance plan may also be contacted by their Medigap insurer. And Medicare recipients who also receive Medicaid through a managed care plan could also be contacted.

Priority will be given to areas where vaccination rates are most inequitable. According to America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the trade association for health insurance companies, insurers participating in the pilot will consider social factors — including socioeconomic status, minority status and language, housing type and transportation — to determine the most vulnerable communities whose residents need help getting vaccinated.

Seniors who are contacted can expect:

  • Help with registering for and scheduling an appointment for a vaccine.
  • Education about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines and answers to any questions.
  • Information on where and when they can get the vaccines and a reminder of the second-dose requirement for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna products.
  • Help overcoming any barriers to getting their shots, including transportation through rideshare services.

The insurers that will be participating in the pilot program include: AHIP, Anthem BCBSA, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, Blue Shield of California, Cambia, Cigna, Centene, CVS, Florida Blue, Highmark, Humana, Kaiser Permanente and United Health Care.

Dena Bunis covers Medicare, health care, health policy and Congress. She also writes the “Medicare Made Easy” column for the AARP Bulletin. An award-winning journalist, Bunis spent decades working for metropolitan daily newspapers, including as Washington bureau chief for the Orange County Register and as a health policy and workplace writer for Newsday.

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