Health

The Biden Administration Is Paying Doctors To Push COVID-19 Vaccination To Parents

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Dylan Housman Healthcare Reporter
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President Joe Biden’s administration is already paying pediatricians to provide “vaccine counseling” to parents, and according to a new Washington Post report, the program could’ve been much broader.

In December 2021, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced it would begin covering vaccine counseling for COVID-19 to parents through Medicaid, which covers over 40% of children in the United States. According to a report out Monday from The Washington Post, top health officials wanted the plan to cover all Americans on Medicare or Medicaid, but Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Xavier Becerra nixed the plan.

Vaccine counseling simply means advising a patient on the facts about a disease and its vaccine, and potentially nudging them toward choosing to get the vaccine if they’re on the fence. Proponents of the CMS program for vaccine counseling on COVID-19 said that doctors were spending an inordinate amount of time answering questions and advising their patients about the vaccines for the virus, and that compensating them for that time made sense and allowed them to do their jobs better.

There are critics of offering financial incentives to discuss or promote any kind of drugs, as well. Some academics and activists have called for a ban on drug and device companies lobbying or offering financial incentives to doctors, as research shows that said behavior affects the rates at which physicians prescribe certain drugs.

In the case of COVID-19, the Biden administration’s top health officials reportedly were concerned about low vaccine uptake and wanted a way to combat what they said was misinformation about the shots. They generally agreed on a proposal to reimburse doctors for vaccine counseling for the more than 100 million Americans on Medicare or Medicaid, which includes large numbers of vulnerable groups like seniors and under-vaccinated groups like black Americans, according to the Post.

But Becerra, the top decision-maker at HHS, reportedly struck down the idea out of concern that it would lack oversight and might lead to fraud. The Post’s report described some Biden officials as “incensed” and cited it as a key incident that has undermined confidence in Becerra within the administration.

The health officials favored the plan because polls show that individuals unsure about vaccines are more likely to trust their personal doctors than public health officials or politicians. An HHS spokesperson said Becerra wanted to focus on Medicaid, in part because so many Medicare patients had already been vaccinated. (RELATED: Could Omicron Finally ‘Shut Down The Virus?’ These Experts Say Yes)

Despite concerns about fraud and oversight, the plan was apparently good enough for all involved to target America’s children with vaccine counseling. Only about 20% of kids aged 5-11 are fully vaccinated against the virus. The rate for those aged 12-17 is much higher, at about 55%, but the two age groups are still the two least-vaccinated in the country by a wide margin.

Those groups are also the least likely to suffer from serious cases of COVID-19. Age has been proven in numerous studies to be the number one corollary with serious illness or death from the virus. Only 254 kids aged 5-11 have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began nearly two years ago, and there have been 572 deaths between ages 12 and 17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).