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Keller @ Large: Costlier health care returns after end of COVID emergency

Keller @ Large: Cost of COVID after pandemic
Keller @ Large: Cost of COVID after pandemic 02:35

BOSTON - Did you catch my colleague Kristina Rex's report Monday on a local man's sticker shock over a $190 bill for a COVID-19 vaccine?

Turns out it was the result of fumbling insurance bureaucracy. You may still be able to get the vaccine for free depending on your insurance.  

But while this analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation back in March forecast a top price of around $130 for unsubsidized vaccines, co-author Cynthia Cox now says that may have been too low. "Pharmacies may be charging what's called an administration fee. And that could be maybe $20, $30, $50 on top of the cost of the vaccine," she says.

And if you go to a pharmacy outside your insurer's network: "You might not only be exposed to the cost of the vaccine, you might also be having to pay some sort of cost basically for the visit, for the cost of the provider actually giving you the shot."

The days of free testing are gone, and while those at-home tests are still relatively cheap, the more accurate PCR tests are not. At some CVS drive-thru locations it'll set you back $69.99.

And while treatments like Paxlovid bought in bulk by the government have been free: "When those pre-purchased doses run out, which the timing of that is still a little bit unclear, then there will be a cost," notes Cox.

It seems the end of the emergency meant a return to costlier health care for consumers. "COVID care in the U.S. looked a little bit more like health care generally looks in other large and wealthy nations - it's free and it doesn't matter which pharmacy you go to," Cox said. "Now what's happening is essentially we're rolling back to how health care works in the U.S."

Congress rejected recent White House requests for more vaccine, testing, and treatment subsidies. And instead of making a big issue of it, the administration has seemed eager to put COVID behind them, despite warnings about surges and Long COVID.

Understandable politically. But when we asked Cynthia Cox if increasing the costs of preventive measures risks enhancing the spread of a highly contagious virus, her answer was - yes. 

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