Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, who leads the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), says her office will double down on vaccine education for seniors and low-income Americans as the country continues to battle the Covid-19 pandemic and the latest omicron variant.
“We are really trying to make sure that everyone knows what is available to them,” Brooks-LaSure told the Forbes Healthcare Summit on Thursday. Her remarks coincided with the Biden-Harris Administration announcing a series of new actions to combat the pandemic, including tightened travel rules and requiring insurers to reimburse at-home Covid testing, a day after the first U.S. omicron case was detected in California.
While more time is needed to study and determine whether this new variant poses greater risk of severe disease or death, the Biden Administration’s position in recent weeks has been to encourage all adults to get a Covid-19 vaccine booster shot, especially for older or vulnerable people.
Brooks-LaSure said she will be sending a letter to the 63 million people in the Medicare program “telling them to get boosted” and alerting them to where Covid-19 booster shots are available within their communities. This is the first time in four years that the agency has sent out a mass letter to all Medicare recipients, according to the White House. The CDC reports that 99.9% of percent of Americans aged 65 and over have gotten at least one dose, while 86.3% are fully vaccinated. Around 21 million seniors, or 44.7% of the 65 and older population, have received a booster shot.
CMS will also focus on outreach to low-income Americans in the Medicaid program by providing federal matching funds and requiring states to reimburse Covid-19 vaccine counseling sessions “in which healthcare providers talk to families about the importance of kids’ vaccination” for the duration of the pandemic.
“We’re requiring states to pay for vaccine education,” said Brooks-LaSure. One of the main reasons is trusted relationships with healthcare providers, be it doctors, nurses or community health workers, are one of the ways to move the needle when it comes to vaccine hesitancy. This also means reaching people where they live and work. “Whether it’s through churches, through [federally qualified health centers], through so many of the organizations that people trust, they want to hear from their friends and their neighbors about why they got vaccinated,” she said.
“This effort of education is something that I hope we take with us,” Brooks-LaSure added. “Developing these relationships between providers and people in their communities is something that we can use to strengthen our healthcare system more broadly.”