Chicago clinic that charged $200 for COVID vaccine acknowledges 'huge oversight'

CHICAGO (WLS) -- If you are a consumer of the COVID-19 vaccine, there is only supposed to be one price: zero.

Private providers may bill insurance companies for administering the shot and those without insurance are covered by the government.

Chicago health officials want to make it clear after one Chicago clinic learned the hard way.

Chicago's Public Health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said her inspectors are examining urgent care centers in the city to determine whether vaccine patients are being charged, in violation of the program regulations.

"I want people in Chicago to hear that they should not be billed directly for receiving a COVID vaccine..." Arwady said.

Jamie Gentry said she was shocked and really disappointed when she unexpectedly discovered she would have to pay nearly $200 to receive the vaccine at Michigan Avenue Immediate Care in Chicago.

Gentry said she was eligible for a vaccine as an essential worker, regularly volunteering at a food pantry.

She booked a vaccine through ZocDoc, the website Chicago is using to help people track down providers who have signed up to provide the vaccines.

Gentry said it took 16 hours to find one. When she accidently booked two appointments and had to call the clinic to cancel she said she was told the facility was outside her insurance network and that she would have to pay a nearly 200-dollar, out of pocket doctor consultation fee.

"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. So I was, I was really shocked and really disappointed," Gentry said.

Dr. Jim Runke, Co-Medical Director of Michigan Avenue Immediate Care, said this was a huge oversight.

He told the I-Team they didn't know that fees couldn't be charged to consumers who were without insurance or out of network --and said they will be refunding the 20 patients they've charged out of 1,500 vaccinated the past month.

"So yeah, that that absolutely did fall through the cracks," Runke said. "That was totally our fault...I've been doing this now for 30 years, insurance billing is immensely complicated and confusing. It's always kind of the last part of the piece of the puzzle that we figure out, and hear it is again. 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."

Arwady stressed that the health department does not regulate these facilities but that the city does make decisions about who does get the vaccine to be administered. She said her department is looking into these complaints and having conversations with providers.

"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 that what people are doing is, is appropriate in terms of what is allowed," Arwady said.

Jamie Gentry said she received an apology and explanation from Dr. Jim Runke at the Michigan Avenue clinic that mistakenly charged her nearly $200.

Runke and public health officials 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.
Copyright © 2021 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.