COURIER LIFE, APRIL 15-21, 2022
Feds end COVID care payments for uninsured,
hampering pandemic response, providers say
BY BEN BRACHFELD
The federal government is no longer
paying for most COVID-related health
care, leaving patients to deal with high
bills for tests and vaccines that will likely
discourage them from seeking care, and
health care workers scrambling to continue
providing what for the past two years
many had started taking for granted.
Congress recently reached a deal to
budget $10 billion for COVID-related care
in the coming fiscal year — far short of
the $22.5 billion that President Joe Biden
and congressional Democrats sought. But
some of the most significant funding for
COVID care already dried up weeks ago:
a program by the Health Resources Services
Administraton paying for COVID
tests, vaccines, and related care expired
on March 22, leaving most anyone wishing
to get preventive or acute COVID care
to either finagle with insurance or pay out
of pocket for tests, vaccines, and the like.
A spokesperson for New York City
Health & Hospitals, the city’s public hospital
network, said that tests and vaccines
will still not cost out of pocket and that
the system has no plans to change that,
though did not specify where money will
“At NYC Health + Hospitals there continue
to be no out-of-pocket costs for Covid
tests or vaccines for any New Yorker
regardless of their immigration or insurance
status,” said H+H spokesperson
Chris Miller. “We have no plans to change
this as we want everyone to get vaccinated
and remain healthy!”
But the rule change is profoundly impacting
the ability of small, private clinics
to provide the level of COVID care that patients
have gotten used to.
“The co-pays, the deductibles, they’re
starting to crack down,” said Yosef Hershkop,
the manager at Kamin Health’s
Crown Heights Urgent Care at Kingston
and Lefferts avenues. “It’s kind of like a
nuclear bomb has fallen on America’s doctors.”
Throughout the pandemic, many insured
customers at testing sites had not
provided their insurance information at
front desks, knowing that the care was
covered anyway; insured patients now
have to fill out mountains of paperwork so
that their insurance will cover their test.
Uninsured patients are either out of luck,
or must break the bank to keep track of
Even more worrying, though, is the impact
that the change will probably have on
people’s likelihood to seek COVID care.
The program was initiated in the first
place because the government sought to
“bend the curve” and prevent the spread
Health care manager Yosef Hershkop says the
end of federal funding for COVID care will hinder
the pandemic fight. Photo by Ben Brachfeld
of the disease which has now killed over
40,000 New Yorkers, and in doing so resolved
to eliminate the cost-barrier that
prevents many Americans from seeking
necessary health care.
But now that the government has
stopped covering the bill — and as officials
of both parties portray the pandemic
as on the wane — fewer people are affirmatively
seeking COVID care, even as
cases begin to rise again.
“Especially now that they find out
they’ve gotta pay out of pocket, fewer are
coming in the door now,” said Zach, a medical
provider at Crown Heights Urgent
Care who suspects that more people seeking
COVID care from here on out will be
those with clear symptoms, and even they
are less likely to show up.
Dee Santana, a freelance makeup artist
from Crown Heights, said that throughout
the pandemic she has been an “obsessive”
tester, both for her own personal health
and because many on-set jobs require negative
tests. Some jobs would test on-site,
while others require a PCR in advance.
But now, she is in a state of limbo over
whether her professional and personal
need to regularly test will break her bank.
“Any person should be able to get tested at
any time,” Santana said. “It’s gonna have
an insane impact.”
Hershkop suspects that the funding
lapsed as part of government’s campaign
to present New York and America as having
successfully combatted the pandemic,
and to reopen and return to normal. But at
the end of the day, it may serve as yet another
example of America failing to learn
from its mistakes.
“This is the dumbest way to say America’s
back,” he said. “It’s outlandish.”
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