Health plans play a vital role in assisting members with accessing the COVID-19 vaccination. Plans can support members in navigating the often complex process of registering for a vaccine appointment, especially those who have limited access to technology.
For some individuals, a major barrier to COVID-19 vaccination is a limited ability to successfully access and use the technology required to register for an appointment, which, in many jurisdictions, may rely on high-speed internet, email, and a computer or a smartphone. According to a recent survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor, 42 percent of adults ages 65 and older have found getting a vaccine appointment to be difficult. Online vaccine registration may especially pose challenges to older adults as some are less accustomed to using technology; according to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center, approximately 27 percent of older adults do not consider themselves to be internet users. Technology challenges may be a barrier especially for Black and Latinx older adults due to disparities in access to technology and high speed internet, per a recent AARP report. Additionally, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis found registration webpages to frequently be inaccessible for people with disability, making it difficult for that population to make appointments for a vaccine online. Phone-based registration may also pose challenges for individuals who use cell phones with limited minutes due to extended wait times that may be required to schedule an appointment via phone.
CMS recently talked with health plans that shared the following promising practices to support members facing technology barriers in successfully accessing vaccines:
- Identify members who are likely unable to use email or other technology to independently schedule a vaccine appointment. This may involve identifying geographic areas where Wi-Fi access is poor and conducting targeted outreach to these members to help them schedule appointments. Many health plans have set up a phone line where members can call in to receive assistance with registering for a vaccine appointment. Other plans are promoting the phone lines that other entities may already have established for appointment scheduling, such as health departments or pharmacies.
- Provide detailed appointment sign-up instructions verbally via phone, help members create an email address, or register members for an appointment on their behalf. Plan care coordinators and volunteers are typically conducting this type of outreach. One health plan is engaging with federally qualified health centers whose volunteers are calling members to help them schedule a vaccine appointment.
- Call members the day before their appointment to remind them of the appointment time. Some plans have developed trackers and dashboards to keep track of when member vaccine appointments are scheduled. Health plans can use these dashboards to identify and call members to remind them about their upcoming appointment. This data should be accessible to care managers and coordinators and any other member-facing staff who may be able to place reminder calls.
- Help members schedule appointments for their second dose (if applicable) at the time of their first appointment. Members who needed support registering their first dose over the phone likely need assistance to schedule their second dose as well. Some plans are using their dashboards or trackers to identify members who are overdue for a second dose. Several plans are conducting targeted outreach to members to ensure that they register for a second dose. One health plan shared that they reach out to all members via phone call and text seven days before their second dose appointment.