Patients charged for COVID-19 vaccine after billing 'error'

13 Investigates first got results for Houston patients who had to pay when they got their free COVID-19 vaccine weeks ago. Now, we're clearing up any insurance confusion and getting more answers and refunds for patients who shouldn't have been billed at all.

Video Transcript

- Now we turn to the latest on the pandemic. Days after 13 Investigates found one Houston area health clinic was charging patients for the vaccine, our team is now investigating other complaints.

- Yeah, unbelievable that anyone would charge. It is free, by the way. Dozens of you wrote to tell us about your experience having to pay when getting the COVID-19 vaccine, which should be free to patients everywhere in the United States. Tonight Ted Oberg and our team tracking down more of your concerns.

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TED OBERG: Your tips led us to Clinica Hispana, where viewers told us they had to pay $30 each time they received a dose at the clinic. Katia Cueva's parents were among them.

KATIA CUEVA: They didn't want to have to come back or lose their chance of getting the vaccine sooner, and so they just, I guess, went along with it.

TED OBERG: When 13 Investigates first reached out, the clinic said it was allowed to charge uninsured patients $30 not for the vaccine but for an administrative fee. Practice manager Ofelia Mendez told us in an email "As we're not participating in the Provider Relief Fund, we're able to charge a fee for administrative costs. If a patient cannot pay for the administration fee, we'll waive it."

But the state said it's been clear, and was again after we asked about the clinic's explanation. "People should not be charged any out-of-pocket fee for the COVID-19 vaccine or administering it," a DSHS spokesman told 13 Investigates.

KATIA CUEVA: Businesses are just taking advantage of the situation. But these are health care providers. They're supposed to protect people.

TED OBERG: The state has since reached out to Clinica Hispana about the fee, and the clinic responded in a letter last week that it believed it was allowed to charge an administrative fee, and that messaging from the state and federal agencies on it were ambiguous. The clinic didn't charge Katia's dad when he got his second dose last week, and told the state they've stopped charging the fee. But now, due to the inordinate amount of time spent addressing this issue and the operating expenses of participating, the practice manager told us Clinica Hispana will dis-enroll from the vaccine program after fulfilling current patient obligations.

Tonight at 10:00, an error that ended up charging patients, insurance or not, $75 or more at one of the Medical Center's most well known institutions. We'll tell you where it is, what's happening now, and cut through any confusion about COVID-19 vaccines and insurance on the late news. See you then.

- All right, Ted. Thank you.