With the first COVID-19 vaccine granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 11, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield has announced that costs associated with all FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines will be fully covered for all members, including members in self-insured plans.
CareFirst, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, an association of independent, locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies, is a not-for-profit healthcare company which, through its affiliates and subsidiaries, offers a portfolio of health insurance products and administrative services to 3.3 million individuals and employers in Maryland, the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia.
WHAT'S THE IMPACT?
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Due to some individuals and families possibly having concerns regarding the coronavirus vaccines, CareFirst is working with state and local leaders across the region to help support coordinated community vaccination efforts related to communication and distribution processes – but the organization cautions patience.
Initial vaccine supplies are expected to be limited. Most states will distribute the vaccines in phases, using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations to determine which populations will be vaccinated during each phase. As vaccines become more widely and readily available, each state will communicate when and where vaccinations will occur.
Throughout the public health emergency, it's important to continue practicing social distancing behaviors such as wearing a mask, staying at least six feet apart, and washing one's hands, according to CareFirst.
The organization has taken a number of actions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to support its members, providers and communities. These include cost-share waivers for COVID-19 testing and treatment, premium credits and rebates for individual, small and large group customers, premium deferrals, and relaxation of authorization and concurrent review criteria.
CareFirst also provided accelerated payments to an array of healthcare providers experiencing financial strain and invested in community nonprofit organizations working to address complex and emerging health, social and economic needs. On top of that, it committed resources for personal protection equipment to almost 200 federally qualified health centers and independent primary care providers and recently delivered care packages to vulnerable members.
CareFirst said it will continue to work with its jurisdictions and public health authorities to provide support and identify barriers and solutions to coronavirus care for its members.
THE LARGER TREND
In October, CareFirst acquired the University of Maryland's Health Advantage Medicare dual-eligible special needs health plan and its Medicaid managed care organization, University of Maryland Health Partners. It acquired the health plans intact, so the 55,000 patients served by them may continue to see their network providers.
Both health plans will be rebranded under new names – the dual-eligible special needs plan will become CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield Medicare Advantage, and the Medicaid plan will be the CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield Community Health Plan Maryland.
Meanwhile, on December 23, the Department of Health and Human Services with the Department of Defense announced it will purchase another 100 million doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine. Officials are confident that this deal will ensure that there are enough vaccines available for every American who wants one by June 2021, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said.
Under the agreement, Pfizer will manufacture and distribute the 100 million doses to government-designated locations. At least 70 million doses will be delivered by the end of June 2021, with the remaining doses to be delivered by the end of July.
ON THE RECORD
"The health and well-being of our members and communities remain top priorities for CareFirst," said Brian D. Pieninck, president and CEO of CareFirst. "We are fully committed to removing any and all barriers so that people get the care they need. No one should worry about receiving the COVID-19 vaccination because of the cost.
"This pandemic has proven that we're better together when we are all healthier, and this includes staying up to date on all recommended and available vaccinations. CareFirst will continue to support our members, communities, providers and public health authorities in the distribution of vaccines and the critically important communications and planning in the weeks and months ahead."
"We must all work together and follow the vaccine recommendations of health professionals to help stop the spread of COVID-19," said Dr. Daniel J. Winn, vice president and chief medical officer at CareFirst. "Protecting our community is a shared responsibility and in order to achieve the most effective health benefits from these vaccines, we must all do our part. Higher percentages of people vaccinated will be important to provide the protection needed to help end this pandemic and help keep ourselves and our communities healthy."