Paid to push the jab: Doctors incentivized to administer more COVID-19 vaccines

by Jacob Fuller

Lauren Dempsey, MS in Biomedicine and Law, RN, FISM News 

In 2021, the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) announced that it would be providing $350 million in incentive payments to encourage vaccinations among Medi-Cal’s 14 million recipients in an effort to reach individuals in underserved communities.

The incentive program ran from September 2021 through February 2022 and used $175 million in state General Funds and an additional $175 million in federal funds in an attempt to boost vaccination rates and would allow Medi-Cal managed care plans (MCPs) to earn incentive payments for activities that are designed to close vaccination gaps.

Some incentives included providing members with incentives directly, such as grocery store gift cards as well as additional MCP payments that were conditional upon meeting specific vaccination goals.

The incentive amount that MCP received was based on the timing of baseline vaccination rates and achievement of a specified outcome for certain demographics. Physicians were encouraged to increase vaccine uptake by at least 75% in individuals aged 12 to 25, people ages 50 to 64 with chronic conditions, and minorities to receive a payout.


Similarly, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced in March 2021 that they would be increasing the Medicare payment rate for physicians that administered the COVID-19 vaccine. The change boosted payments from approximately $28 for a single-dose vaccine to $40 per dose administered and for a two-dose vaccine the amount increased from $45 to $80.

Physicians weren’t the only ones receiving monetary compensation for getting vaccinated. The Biden administration encouraged governors, mayors, and private sector leaders to offer money in exchange for vaccine compliance. Some states were offering $100 to get vaccinated in an effort to coerce and take advantage of unvaccinated individuals. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) document, the agency was providing a $100 per patient payment incentive for children to receive COVID-19 vaccines.

In addition to financial incentives, many companies were offering free products to encourage vaccination, many of which promoted unhealthy lifestyle choices. Krispy Kreme offered a free donut every day in 2021, Anheuser-Busch gave away free beer, and Washington State had a promotion called “Joints for Jabs,” allowing adults aged 21 and older to claim a free marijuana joint after vaccination.


While it seems unethical for physicians to profit from insurance payouts that push certain vaccines, it isn’t a new concept. Physicians routinely receive bonus payments for childhood vaccination rates under a pay-for-performance type of model to incentivize physicians.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan initiated a “Performance Recognition Program” that rewards physicians for achieving specific objectives for childhood vaccination. This incentive program paid pediatricians $400 for each fully vaccinated child under the age of 2. Under the insurance company’s rules, at least 63% of patients must be fully vaccinated, including the flu vaccine, or they risk losing the entire bonus.

Pay-for-performance programs are common and are used to encourage improving the quality of patient care. However, research has shown that this method of rewarding and punishing physicians does not actually result in good medical practice, reducing costs, or saving lives.


Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman said,

It is concerning to see doctors being financially compensated based on the vaccination rates of their patients. The COVID fiasco has caused many people to lose faith in hospitals and doctors. It will be a long time before that trust is restored, if indeed is even possible at this point. People have been injured and died as a result of the most expensive shot in history, and it was paid for with our taxpayer dollars. The entire medical system is in desperate need of reform.