Personal Finance

Early vaccines for Covid likely to be free for Medicare beneficiaries

Key Points
  • A regulatory change is expected to let Medicare beneficiaries get a free Covid-19 vaccine if approved via emergency-use authorization.
  • Under current rules, Medicare only would cover a vaccine that undergoes the standard approval process for new treatments.
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Older Americans may be among those first in line for a free Covid-19 vaccine as soon as one is available.

The Trump administration is expected to soon announce a regulatory change that would allow Medicare to cover vaccines approved under emergency-use authorization, according to a report in Politico. The regulatory changes would also apply to Medicaid beneficiaries.

The CARES Act, signed into law in March, called for no cost-sharing for Medicare beneficiaries for a Covid-19 vaccine once it's available. However, under existing Medicare rules, the legislation would apply only to a vaccine that undergoes the standard approval process for new biologics — not one authorized under emergency use, which is how the White House hopes to make a vaccine available quickly. 

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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services did not respond immediately to a CNBC inquiry about the regulatory change.

There are about 62.7 million individuals enrolled in Medicare, although not all are enrolled in Part B, which generally covers vaccines deemed necessary. (Some beneficiaries with health coverage elsewhere delay signing up for Part B and instead only get Part A — hospital coverage — because they usually pay no premiums).

Pharmaceutical companies are racing to get a vaccine approved, with several moving closer to the finish line. Pfizer, for one, expects to apply for emergency-use authorization next month.

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The intent by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be to make the limited quantities of an early vaccine available to those most at risk for contracting Covid-19 or dying from complications caused by the virus.

That generally would include Medicare beneficiaries, the majority of whom are age 65 or older — an age group identified as high-risk.