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The COVID-19 vaccine is free-so why are some people getting charged? The I-Team has an alert for people signing up to get their shots.
CHUCK GOUDIE: Alan, the price of protection from COVID-19 is free to consumers. Private providers may bill insurance companies for administering the shot, and those without insurance are covered by the government. Tonight, though, Chicago health officials are making it clear.
ALLISON ARWADY: I want people in Chicago to hear that they should not be billed directly for receiving a COVID vaccine.
CHUCK GOUDIE: Chicago's public health commissioner says tonight her inspectors are examining urgent care centers in the city to determine whether vaccine patients are being charged in violation of the program regulations.
JAMIE GENTRY: I was really shocked.
CHUCK GOUDIE: Jamie Gentry says she was eligible for a vaccine as an essential worker regularly volunteering at a food pantry. Gentry says she booked a vaccine appointment through this app, and it took 16 hours to find one, only to be told that the clinic she had booked was outside her insurance network and that she would have to pay a $200 out-of-pocket doctor consultation fee.
JAMIE GENTRY: I went in scheduling and assuming the vaccine was going to be free, and at the most I figured I would have to pay like a $15 or $20 administrative fee.
JIM RUNKE: This was a huge oversight.
CHUCK GOUDIE: Tonight here at the Michigan Avenue Clinic, co-medical director Dr. Jim Runke tells the I-Team they didn't know that fees couldn't be charged to consumers who were without insurance or out-of-network, and he says they will be refunding the 20 patients they've charged out of 1,500 people vaccinated the past month.
JIM RUNKE: So yeah, that-- that absolutely did fall through the cracks. That was totally our fault. I've been doing this now for 30 years. Insurance billing immensely complicated and confusing. It rears its ugly head in the midst of this thing when we're just focused on patient safety, focused on the safety of our staff, and things like that. So no excuses.
ALLISON ARWADY: It's mostly related to urgent cares, which tend to be more of a fee for service that then people reimburse insurance. So we are pulling those groups together, and just we want to make sure that what people are doing is-- is appropriate in terms of what is allowed.
CHUCK GOUDIE: A little while ago, Jamie Gentry received an apology and explanation from Dr. Jim Runke at the Michigan Avenue Clinic that mistakenly charged her $200. Runke and public health officials tonight agree that vaccine patients may legitimately be charged for additional services provided at the time a shot is given, including for medical treatment and consultations on other illnesses.