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Covid-19 vaccines could cost billions more if federal government stops picking up the tab

<i>Michael Nagle/Bloomberg/Getty Images</i><br/>A health care worker prepares a dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine at the Brooklyn Children's Museum vaccination site in Brooklyn
Michael Nagle
Michael Nagle/Bloomberg/Getty Images
A health care worker prepares a dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine at the Brooklyn Children's Museum vaccination site in Brooklyn

By Tami Luhby, CNN

The cost of Covid-19 vaccines could quadruple if the federal government stops buying them in bulk, according to an analysis released Wednesday.

The federal government has spent more than $30 billion so far on Covid-19 vaccines to promote their development and ensure that people can access them without charge, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation report. But the Biden administration has said it cannot afford to continue doing so unless Congress provides it with more funds. It has started to prepare for the transition of the vaccines to the commercial market.

That shift would be costly for health insurers and other payers, according to the analysis. Most people with health coverage likely won’t have to pay for the shots, but those with private insurance might see their premiums rise somewhat to cover the tab. And the uninsured would no longer have guaranteed access to free Covid-19 vaccines, which could prevent some from getting them.

Pfizer and Moderna have already announced that the commercial prices of their Covid-19 vaccines will likely be between $82 and $130 per dose — about three to four times what the federal government has paid, according to Kaiser.

Pfizer has said the transition of vaccines from government contracts to the traditional health care system could take place as early as the first quarter of 2023.

The booster shots could run between $6.2 billion and $29.7 billion annually on the commercial market, depending on the price and how many people get the vaccine or booster shot, said Kaiser, which compared the average price paid by the federal government for the Covid-19 bivalent booster with the manufacturers’ estimated average commercial prices.

Insurers and other payers may be able to negotiate discounts from the vaccine manufacturers. But they may have trouble bargaining since they are generally required to cover all recommended vaccines and boosters.

White House funding request

The Biden administration last month asked Congress for an additional $10 billion for its Covid-19 response, down from its unsuccessful attempt earlier this year to obtain $22.5 billion.

The recent request includes $2.5 billion to provide continued access to vaccines and therapeutics, including for the uninsured, and for Strategic National Stockpile maintenance costs, as well as $5 billion for the development of the next-generation vaccines and therapeutics.

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