ST. JOSEPH — Plans for the Berrien County Health Department to charge insurance companies a $40 administrative fee for COVID-19 vaccines were put on hold Thursday by county commissioners.
Commissioner Julie Wuerfel said she opposed the idea because she believes it will stop people from getting vaccinated.
“I think it’s just going to add one more layer of hindrance to increase the (vaccinated) population,” she said during the board’s Thursday meeting.
Commissioner Jon Hinkleman agreed that adding an administrative fee could discourage people from getting vaccinated.
“There’s a pretty extensive radio campaign that’s taking place in this point in time that’s trying to encourage people to get it, so much so that they’re giving away a Super Bowl trip, they’re giving away things, and they’re trying to encourage people to get it,” Hinkleman said.
Commissioner Ezra Scott said the federal government is not only giving the vaccines to the county at no charge, but the county has received millions of dollars in state and federal money to help mitigate costs associated with the pandemic.
“I cannot support something when we’ve received state and federal tax dollars for COVID relief. That money should be used for that,” Scott said. “In my opinion, we shouldn’t be running it through as an admin fee to charge to an insurance company because, and my opinion is, that the more insurance companies get charged, their rates are going to go up and the rates will go up across the board for everybody.”
Other commissioners felt a fee would be merited.
Commissioner Dave Vollrath said people have had seven months to get the vaccine at no charge.
“The free stuff has to stop somewhere,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of unknown expenses coming up. Things we don’t even know are coming up. ... I think the health department is doing the right thing.”
Commissioner Bob Harrison, who sits on the county board of health, said this fee would only be charged to people who have private or government-sponsored health insurance. He said people who have no insurance would get the vaccine at no cost.
He said it is normal for the health department to charge administration fees for vaccinations.
“At what point in time do you put the COVID vaccine administration into the normal course of business?” he said.
Commissioners unanimously approved tabling the resolution to add administrative fees for three months.
Members of the Berrien County Board of Health approved on July 7 recommending that the administration fee be charged to insurance companies when COVID-19 vaccines are given.
When contacted after the meeting, BCHD Spokesperson Gillian Conrad said commissioners previously approved administration fees for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations when they approved the annual fee schedule earlier this year. The fees were $17 for the first dose and $28 for the second dose of both vaccines. She said those fees were never charged because the health department hasn’t been collecting health insurance information from the people being vaccinated.
“We had to very quickly ramp up operations to give out the vaccine,” she said. “It was just not feasible to collect insurance information.”
She said Thursday’s resolution would have increased the administrative fee for Pfizer and Moderna and would have added the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the fee list.
Because of the commissioners’ concerns, she said the health department will not charge any administrative fees for the COVID-19 vaccinations.
“We are very committed to making sure there are no barriers or hindrances to people getting vaccinated,” she said.