April 26, 2021
The new program aims to address pandemic disparities by focusing efforts on vaccinating minority communities at higher risk for COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths
(Austin, Texas) – Central Health launched a new vaccine equity payment program to increase vaccination rates among Latinos, African Americans and low-income populations in Travis County.
Through the program, Central Health will provide payments to participating Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) for each vaccine administered to high-risk residents. The per-vaccine incentives will be in addition to reimbursements from Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) and other federal payments.
“Study after study confirms higher COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death rates in Eastern Travis County, but lower vaccination rates. That has to change,” said Central Health President and CEO Mike Geeslin. “Central Health’s core objective is to connect vulnerable populations to quality care that can help them lead longer, healthier lives. The vaccine equity payment program encourages local organizations to work together so we can efficiently and effectively provide residents with greater access to this life-saving vaccine.”
Central Health will work with established health centers that have extensive clinic networks throughout Travis County, including Central Health-affiliated CommUnityCare Health Centers, People’s Community Clinic, and Lone Star Circle of Care. Vaccine equity payments allow these providers to expand outreach and coordination efforts. Specifically, Central Health identified two priority tiers that can be combined for concentrated vaccination efforts:
Tier 1 includes established members of Central Health’s Medical Access Programs (MAP and MAP BASIC) and uninsured Travis County residents earning at or below 200% the Federal Poverty Level.
Tier 2 includes individuals in 20 ZIP codes identified as areas with the highest rates of positive cases, continuous community spread and large populations who are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19-related hospital admissions and deaths. Nearly 90-percent of all MAP and MAP BASIC members live in these ZIP codes, which include populations with low income with the highest proportions of black and Latino residents as well as 78767, a P.O. Box ZIP code in downtown Austin used to indicate the homeless population.
Central Health used a number of data sources to select and prioritize ZIP codes for the program, including MAP/MAP BASIC enrollment and utilization data, Austin Public Health COVID case data and U.S. Census data. The priority ZIP codes are also in line with the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index, which identifies areas most likely to need support before, during and after a hazardous event, such as a disease outbreak.
“COVID-19 has further exposed the realities of health inequity in Travis County, and we’re continuously working closely with local health authorities, health care providers and local community groups to find creative solutions to a long-standing, complex problem,” added Geeslin.
The initial phase of Central Health funding for this vaccine equity program is $500,000 and applies to vaccines administered starting March 1. Subsequent phases may be funded based on vaccine supplies, government vaccine strategy changes, distribution modalities and/or projected vaccine distribution in underserved and high-risk communities.