HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Days after 13 Investigates found one Houston-area health clinic charging patients for the COVID-19 vaccine, our team is investigating similar complaints. Dozens of you wrote to tell us about your experience of having to pay when getting the COVID-19 vaccine, which should be free to patients everywhere in the United States.
Now, the state reached out to a second clinic you told us about.
Three viewers said they were charged $30 each time they received a dose at Clinica Hispana locations in Houston.
The Texas Department of State Health Services says the COVID-19 vaccine is supposed to be free for everyone. Although providers can charge an administrative fee, the state said the fee cannot be charged to a patient, but should go through the patient's insurance provider or through a federal reimbursement program if the patient is uninsured.
One viewer said he went to the Clinica Hispana location on Jones Road on January 11 and February 8 to get the first and second vaccine shots.
"I was told it would be 30 (dollars). I had to have a friend help me pay because I did not have the $30 on me, and did not have insurance," said the viewer, Brian, who didn't provide a last name. "When I arrived to get my second vaccination on February 8th, I was told it would be another $30 fee and I had no choice but to pay it as well or could not get my second vaccination."
When we first reached out, the clinic did not deny charging the $30, but said they only charged those who were uninsured and that it wasn't for the vaccine itself, but an administrative fee. In fact, they claimed they were allowed to charge the $30 administration fee to uninsured patients because they haven't signed up to be a part of the federal reimbursement program.
"There is a $30 administration fee, which is to cover our cost of administering the vaccine. For patients with insurance, we do not collect any co-pay from the patient, and the administration fee is billed to their insurance provider. For patients without insurance, we waive the administration fee and absorb the cost of administration if the patient is unable to afford the fee," said Clinica Hispana practice manager Ofelia Mendez in an email on March 8. "We are not participating in the Provider Relief Fund, therefore, we are able to charge the administration fee."
INTERACTIVE: See 13 Investigates' full coverage of patients who say they were told to pay when getting the free COVID-19 vaccine On mobile device? Click here for a full screen experience.
State records show the clinic got 1,000 vaccines. Mendez couldn't tell us how many of those were uninsured patients who were charged, but says they've waived the fee 37 times.
Mendez confirmed for patients who are uninsured and can afford the $30 administrative fee, the payment is collected from the patient at the time of the visit.
We asked Texas DSHS if providers who aren't participating in the federal reimbursement program can collect the administrative payment upfront, and the state said no.
"People should not be charged any out-of-pocket fee for the COVID-19 vaccine or administering it. Every provider agrees to that provision by signing the CDC agreement when enrolling to be a COVID-19 vaccine provider," Texas DSHS said in a statement to 13 Investigates.
The state has since reached out to Clinica Hispana about the fee. The clinic responded in a letter on March 10 that it believed it was allowed to charge an administration fee to uninsured patients, and that messaging from state and federal agencies on the fee was ambiguous.
"Until the CLINIC received your email yesterday, CLINIC was operating within the 'guidelines' as they were understood, and that HHS, DHS, and other regulatory agencies had issued seemingly ambiguous messages about the issue. ... In addition, the CLINIC has always strictly adhered to the policy that there is NO CHARGE for the vaccine itself, and that any Administrative Fee that may have been collected was solely designed to compensate a non-participating provider (of the PRF) for expenses related to providing such vaccines to the community, such as storage costs, utilities, employee time, utilities, rent, etc.," the clinic said in a letter to the state on March 10.
The clinic did not charge an administrative fee to one of the viewers who reached out to us when he received his second dose last week. The clinic told the state they have stopped charging the fee and due to the "inordinate amount of time" spent addressing this issue and the operating expenses of participating, they will disenroll from the vaccine program after fulfilling current patient obligations.
If you were asked to pay any amount when you received the vaccine, fill out the form below and let us know when and where.
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13 Investigates more Houston clinics charged patients when getting free COVID-19 vaccine
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