WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to ensure that all senior citizens enrolled in Medicare can access free COVID-19 vaccines as soon as a safe, effective vaccine becomes available, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) introduced the Ensuring Access to COVID-19 Vaccines for Seniors Act (S. 4825).  The bipartisan bill would close a loophole to ensure a future vaccine is available to vulnerable seniors on Medicare without cost-sharing.

The Reed-Capito bill could benefit up to 62 million Americans who rely on Medicare for health coverage, including more than 220,000 Rhode Islanders and 450,000 West Virginians.

The CARES Act, which Congress passed overwhelmingly and was signed into law at the end of March, included provisions requiring Medicare to cover U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved COVID-19 vaccines with no-cost sharing.  These provisions are designed to ensure that as soon as there is an approved and available COVID-19 vaccine, seniors across the country would be able to get the vaccine for free under Medicare.  But the law was written in a way that failed to reconcile Medicare’s current guidelines with “emergency use” designations.  Given that the most likely pathway to market for a new COVID-19 vaccine is through an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), under Section 564 of the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, the Reed-Capito bill is needed to ensure that traditional Medicare beneficiaries do not face cost-sharing for a COVID-19 vaccine that is authorized for emergency use under the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act.

“When a safe, effective, and fully vetted vaccine arrives, we need to ensure it is widely available and everyone can get the vaccines recommended by their doctors.  That means removing barriers such as cost, especially for seniors on fixed incomes.  This bill means more Rhode Island seniors can get covered and won’t have to pay out of pocket for something that lawmakers across the spectrum agree should be free,” said Senator Reed.  “A vaccine will be vital to people’s health and the health of our economy.  This bipartisan bill updates the law to ensure seniors on Medicare can protect themselves and that vaccines are covered by insurance with no cost-sharing.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 80 percent of COVID-19 deaths have occurred among adults 65 years of age and older, with the highest fatality rates among senior citizens age 85 or older.

“We have already lost far too many Americans and West Virginians—especially among our senior population—to COVID-19,” Senator Capito said.  “It is essential that as soon as a safe, effective, and thoroughly reviewed vaccine is available that those with Medicare have access to it without a financial burden.  This was the intent of the language Congress passed back in March and what this bill would ensure.  While we hope and pray that such a vaccine is imminent, it is essential that until that time comes, we continue to take all efforts to prevent the spread of the disease—including washing our hands, social distancing, and wearing our masks when necessary.”

The Ensuring Access to COVID-19 Vaccines for Seniors Act would require Medicare to cover a free COVID-19 vaccine authorized for emergency use, just as it would for one approved through regular FDA channels.  This would bring Medicare in line with Medicaid and private insurers who have already committed to covering a COVID-19 vaccination for free at no cost to consumers.

Currently, seniors enrolled in Medicare are eligible for a free annual flu shot.  The Reed-Capito bill would make sure that those same seniors would also be eligible for a free COVID vaccine as well.

Similar legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) and Congressman Dusty Johnson (R-SD).