COVID vaccines are free in the U.S. Period. The CDC has been extremely clear about that, but we’re still hearing occasional reports of people getting a bill for their vaccine, or being charged a fee for the service of “administering” that vaccine. In either case, this is illegal. You don’t have to pay it, and you can report it.
What does ‘free’ mean?
The CDC says:
The federal government is providing the vaccine free of charge to all people living in the United States, regardless of their immigration or health insurance status.
If you have health insurance, the vaccine provider will bill your insurance. That’s why they may ask for your insurance card when you book your appointment. If you don’t have insurance, though, the provider can seek reimbursement from the federal government. You, the patient, should never get a bill for receiving the vaccine. (Moreover, COVID tests are typically paid for in the same way.)
Extra fees are illegal, too
Okay so the vaccine is free, but maybe the provider is trying to tell you that there’s a charge to administer it, or that you must pay for an office visit or facility fee. That’s expressly prohibited as well. The CDC says that providers cannot:
- Charge you for the vaccine
- Charge you directly for any administration fees, copays, or coinsurance
- Deny vaccination to anyone who does not have health insurance coverage, is underinsured, or is out of network
- Charge an office visit or other fee to the recipient if the only service provided is a COVID-19 vaccination
- Require additional services in order for a person to receive a COVID-19 vaccine; however, additional healthcare services can be provided at the same time and billed as appropriate
If you come in to their office just for the vaccine, you can’t be charged a fee for that visit—not even a copay. Not even if the provider is “out of network.”
(While we’re at it, all recommended vaccines are free under most insurance plans, even if you haven’t met your deductible.)
What to do if you get a bill
First, check that what you got is indeed a bill and not an explanation of benefits (EOB). An EOB is a document from your health insurance company letting you know what they paid for, and it should say something like “This is not a bill” somewhere on it.
If you really are being charged for the vaccine (or for an associated fee that is not allowed), contact the provider. Remind them of the CDC’s rules, if you need to, and they should fix the situation right away.
If you have insurance, you can submit the bill to your insurance company to be reimbursed. In most cases you shouldn’t have to do this, since the provider can and should bill them directly. Contact your insurer for information on how to file a claim.
If none of this works and the provider is refusing to budge, you can report them to the HHS Office of the Inspector General at tips.hhs.gov or call the hotline at 1-800-HHS-TIPS.