Jennifer Meckles, 9News
LONGMONT, Colo. — A 72-year-old from Longmont said he had an appointment for his first COVID-19 vaccine this week, but it got canceled on him because he had medical debt.
Advocacy groups working to ensure access to the vaccine said that once someone is deemed eligible and has an appointment, no financial barrier should stop them from getting the shot.
“I never expected to have to pay up and be square before I could get the vaccine,” Michael Rogan said. “I thought by my being 72 and a cancer patient that I would qualify and it would be no problem.”
Rogan, who lives in Longmont with his partner Liz Kitzerow, said he spent several weeks trying to secure a vaccine appointment. They were finally successful this past week, making an appointment with Boulder Medical Center.
“They called me on Tuesday and scheduled the first and second doses of the vaccine,” Rogan said. “Then on Wednesday, I got a call from someone else in the organization saying that I wouldn’t be able to get the vaccine until I paid my outstanding bill.”
The bill was $243.85 from a previous, unrelated treatment.
“This needs to be paid before you can schedule a vaccine appointment…” an e-mail Rogan received from the health center reads.
Due to the pandemic and his cancer diagnosis, Rogan and Kitzerow said they are not currently working. They admitted to having medical debt due to these circumstances, but Rogan said he was “flabbergasted” that the debt would prevent him from getting a vaccine.
“I know I owe them money, but I don’t think it should be tied to [the vaccine],” he said.
“I thought it was totally unethical,” Kitzerow added. “It was my understanding, as well, that everything was free, and nothing standing in the way for Americans to get this vaccine.”
The vaccine is free.
9NEWS contacted Boulder Medical Center Thursday afternoon. That same evening, Rogan got a personal call from the medical center’s CEO.
Rogan said the medical center apologized and told him this was an error in vaccine policy. Rogan said the medical center would try to get him on the vaccine list for the next day.
“It’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Rogan said.
Friday morning, Rogan said he was scheduled to get the vaccine that day. He also said, when the medical center called him Thursday night, the center told him they would review the details of his medical debt and work with him on finding solutions.
Adam Fox is the Deputy Director of Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, a non-profit advocacy group that works to ensure equitable and affordable access to healthcare in Colorado.
“As it stands, there should be no copay, no out-of-pocket that anybody faces to receive the vaccine,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what insurance you have, or if you’re uninsured, you should be able to receive the vaccine at no out-of-pocket cost to yourself.”
Fox called what happened to Rogan “egregious” in the context of a global pandemic when the goal is to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible.
“It’s really important, especially when it comes to vaccine, once you’re eligible to receive it and you are able to get an appointment time, you should encounter no additional barriers to receiving that,” he said. “And if you do, you need to reach out to us at the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, the Colorado Division of Insurance, or the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, because something has gone wrong.”
When you’re eligible, you’re eligible. And it’s fair to question any barrier standing between you and the COVID-19 vaccine.
Polis sent a statement by e-mail Thursday night:
“The Governor had been clear that there should be no barrier to receiving the vaccine and the state has been very clear with providers about providing the vaccine to Coloradans in the most efficient way possible. We hope this is just a minor misstep and the person is invited back to get their vaccine right away. We are working with providers across Colorado to remove barriers to accessing this life-saving and crisis-ending vaccine.”
If you are eligible for the vaccine and you run into a barrier like this, financial or other, you should call your provider first and ask some questions. If you can’t reach them or resolve the barrier yourself, you can contact 9NEWS.
Do you have a vaccine-related question or story idea? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.