HHS Bridge Access Program Launches to Ensure Continued Free Access to COVID-19 Vaccines for Uninsured Americans
In April, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) unveiled the ‘HHS Bridge Access Program For COVID-19 Vaccines and Treatments Program’ (“Program”) aimed at preserving widespread access to COVID-19 vaccines for uninsured Americans. This week, the Bridge Access Program officially goes into action, ensuring ongoing free coverage for an estimated 25-30 million adults who might have otherwise lost access to affordable COVID-19 vaccines. This transition coincides with the shift of vaccine distribution to the commercial market, making doses available in some locations immediately and planning for increased distribution in the following weeks.
Administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the more than $1 billion Program seeks to create a unique public-private partnership, guaranteeing that uninsured individuals can still access COVID-19 care through their local pharmacies, existing public health infrastructure, and local health centers. CDC has taken steps to make sure that all Americans can receive these vaccines at no cost from their local provider, community health center, or pharmacy now that the updated and authorized COVID-19 vaccines are recommended for use.
Director Mandy Cohen, M.D., M.P.H., emphasized, “We have more tools than ever to protect against serious COVID-19 disease and death, but we must make sure everyone has equitable access to those tools. This CDC program provides free COVID-19 vaccines to uninsured and underinsured adults at pharmacies, health centers, and health departments around the country.”
To achieve this goal, CDC leveraged an established network of state and local immunization programs to distribute updated COVID-19 vaccines through participating community-based providers, including local health departments and Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)-supported health centers. CDC has also modified existing Increasing Community Access to Testing (ICATT) program contracts with CVS, Walgreens, and eTrueNorth to offer vaccination services in areas with low vaccination coverage and access. Consequently, CDC has contracted with over 20,000 retail pharmacy locations nationwide to provide cost-free COVID-19 vaccines to people without insurance or those with insurance requiring a co-pay for in-network coverage. Additionally, CDC will ship and fund the administration of vaccines to public health providers designated by state and local health departments, which could encompass more than 1,400 HRSA-supported health centers and 12,000 other vaccine providers.
The Bridge Access Program is temporary and scheduled to end in December 2024. A longer-term solution is the Vaccines for Adults (VFA) program, proposed in both the FY 2023 and 2024 Presidential Budgets, which would cover all recommended vaccinations at no cost for uninsured adults. However, this proposal has not yet been enacted into law.
COVID-19 vaccines remain free for most Americans through their health insurance plans – or through the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program, which provides recommended vaccines and immunizations at no cost to about half of the nation’s children. Vaccination remains the best available protection against the most severe outcomes of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death. COVID-19 vaccines also reduce the chance of having Long COVID. If you have not received a COVID-19 vaccine in the past 2 months, CDC recommends getting the updated COVID-19 vaccine to protect yourself in advance of any potential surges in virus circulation this fall and winter.