COVID-19 vaccination rates among Utah’s Medicaid population is significantly lower than rates of all Utahns, said a recently released report from Utah Medicaid. Emma Chacon, interim Medicaid director at the Utah Department of Health (UDOH), said the issue is present around the country. Chacon said she has implemented non-emergency transportation, expanded outreach, and competitive incentives to get members vaccinated.
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The report showed the vaccination rates of all Utahns eligible for vaccination compared to the vaccination rates of Medicaid members eligible for vaccination. The report organized the data into many “small areas” in Utah and reported the percentage of difference between the Medicaid rates and the total Utahns rates. The percentage of difference goes between 4.5% to 50%.
Here is a graph showing the difference in vaccination status in age groups between all Utahns and Utah Medicaid members.
Chacon said these Medicaid member rates are potentially lower due to the early inaccessibility to large vaccination centers. She said these barriers included a lack of transportation to the centers and lack of flexibility of operating hours.
She said as vaccination moved more into community clinics and pharmacies, accessing vaccines has become much more convenient. However, the Medicaid population continues to have lower vaccination rates. She said:
“If we knew why [vaccination rates were so low], we could probably better address the issue.”
In efforts to increase vaccination access, UDOH expanded non-emergency transportation to all Medicaid members who want one. Chacon said members can just call a number to arrange their transportation to the vaccine, and rides will wait outside for members to take them home afterwards.
Chacon said Utah Medicaid is also working with SelectHealth to give members incentives to get vaccinated. Last month, SelectHealth announced that members on Utah contracts will receive $100 for completing their vaccination. Russ Kuzel, chief medical officer of SelectHealth said:
“We want our communities to realize that we truly value their health. This incentive is intended to encourage completion of the COVID vaccine so that we can all live the healthiest lives possible.”
Outreach efforts have also increased to target folks who are not vaccinated and assist them through the process of arranging transportation and other administrative tasks, Chacon said. These outreach teams call, mail, and email members who aren’t vaccinated and provide them with information on the efficacy of the vaccines and the ways to get one.
“When we did that, we saw our vaccination rate increase by about 3,000 individuals … It does seem to help when we have that direct contact.”
Chacon said Utah Medicaid and UDOH is doing the best they can to provide as much information to people as they can, but cannot force people to get vaccinated in the end.
“I feel that our obligation is to make sure that they clearly understand what is available to them, and that there is no cost to them, we can pay to get them there, and can even point them to the very places they need to go. But at that point, what can government or anybody else do? We are making every effort … and at some point, it is just a personal choice.”