Arkansas pharmacies will receive $3.7M to cover unpaid insurance claims for COVID-19 treatments

By: - July 21, 2023 3:19 pm

Arkansas Pharmacists Association CEO John Vinson (left) and Andy Babbitt (right), deputy director of the state Department of Finance and Administration, explain the financial needs of Arkansas pharmacies that have not been reimbursed for COVID-19-related insurance claims on Tuesday, July 18, 2023 before the Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review (PEER) subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council. (Screenshot courtesy of Arkansas Legislature)

More than 170 Arkansas pharmacies will receive nearly $3.7 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds as reimbursement for unpaid insurance claims covering COVID-19 treatments between March 2020 and May of this year.

The Arkansas Legislative Council approved the funding request from the Arkansas Pharmacists Association on Friday after a subcommittee approved it earlier this week.

The pharmacies developed backlogs of unpaid insurance claims for providing COVID-19 testing, vaccines and treatments to uninsured Arkansans. The federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) had a $20 billion program to cover this health care for uninsured people, but the program ran out of money in March 2022.

The largest backlogs affected pharmacies that provided monoclonal antibodies to people who had tested positive for COVID-19, Arkansas Pharmacists Association CEO John Vinson told state officials.

In a June 23 letter to Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders detailing the funding request, Vinson said 110 pharmacies throughout Arkansas were authorized to administer monoclonal antibodies in 2021. These pharmacies, mostly in rural areas, administered antibodies to more than 20,000 Arkansans, “reducing death and hospitalizations by 70-85%,” Vinson wrote.

Pharmacies’ ability to administer antibodies reduced some of the strain on hospitals that were “overwhelmed” with COVID-positive patients, Vinson and some Arkansas pharmacists said Tuesday.

In addition to HRSA, insurance companies from outside Arkansas also did not pay COVID-19-related claims, Andy Babbitt, deputy director of the state Department of Finance and Administration, told lawmakers on Tuesday.

Pharmacies will have to reimburse the state for ARPA relief funds if HRSA or insurance companies ever reimburse them for the existing claims, Babbitt said.

Vinson told the Arkansas Advocate that he does not expect HRSA to ever reimburse pharmacies for these claims since they have not already done so.

Also on Friday, the Legislative Council approved a yearlong extension of a contract with the consulting firm Alvarez and Marsal, which evaluated 18 rural hospitals in 2022 to determine whether their pandemic-related expenses make them eligible for ARPA financial relief.

Three rural hospitals have received ARPA funds so far, and lawmakers expect more requests.

The state will pay Alvarez and Marsal $1.8 million in ARPA funds to continue evaluating rural hospitals for another year.

Lawmakers approved both ARPA funding requests with no debate or dissent Friday.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Tess Vrbin
Tess Vrbin

Tess Vrbin came to the Advocate from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she reported on low-income housing and tenants' rights, and won awards for her coverage of 2021 flooding and tornado damage in rural Arkansas. She previously covered local government for The Commercial Dispatch in Mississippi and state government for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri.