California announced another round of coronavirus vaccine incentives on Friday, offering up to $50 apiece to more than 11 million people in the state who get their health insurance through Medicaid.
The money is part of a new $350 million plan to get more of the state's Medicaid population vaccinated as the state is seeing a surge of new cases attributed to the delta variant, a more contagious and dangerous version of the coronavirus. Medicaid is the joint state and federal health insurance program for people who are disabled or have low incomes.
Many states have used tax dollars to entice people to get the coronavirus vaccine. States like Massachusetts, Michigan and Ohio offered up to $1 million in a lottery-style drawing among those who had received the vaccine.
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom's administration doled out $116.5 million in incentives earlier this year, including $1.5 million each for 10 people and $50,000 payments for another 30 who had received the vaccine. The state is handing out $50 gift cards to grocery stores to people who got vaccinated between May 27 and July 18, plus free tickets to Six Flags theme parks.
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California is among the states with the highest vaccination rates, with about 76% of residents 12 and over having received at least one dose of the vaccine. However, only 45% of the state's Medicaid population has been vaccinated.
“We’re working extremely hard to improve vaccination rates, but we believe we can do better, and must do better, to prevent further disparities in COVID-19 infection and death among persons served by (Medicaid),” state Medicaid Director Jacey Cooper said.
California's Medicaid program is the largest in the country with more than 13.8 million people. But the incentives announced Friday will apply to about 11.7 million people who get their health insurance from private companies, who are then paid by the state.
California is offering those companies $250 million in incentives if they increase the vaccination rates among their members. The state has also set aside $100 million for incentive payments to people, which can't exceed $50 each. Coper said most likely those payments would be in the form of grocery store gift cards.
Several groups of Medicaid beneficiaries have low vaccination rates, including people who are homebound, have multiple chronic diseases, people of color and people between the ages of 50 and 64 and 12 and 25, Cooper said.
The goal of the incentives, Cooper said, is to spur the private insurance companies who manage the bulk of the state's Medicaid plans to get more of those people vaccinated. That could include having more primary care doctors offer the vaccine at their offices and partnering with community organizations and food banks.
“We need to work through harder to reach beneficiaries and figure out how we can make it more convenient,” Cooper said.