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Vaccine Misallocations Sparks One Medical Congressional Hearing

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The consequences are deepening for concierge medical provider One Medical following an NPR investigation. NPR found that One Medical allowed those connected to its leadership and dues-paying members to skip the COVID vaccination line. The publicly traded company is worth billions, and now it will be the subject of a congressional probe. This comes after eight local departments of health have said they will no longer work with One Medical on COVID vaccinations. NPR investigative correspondent Tim Mak has the story.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: The probe by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis will focus on whether the company permitted or facilitated the vaccination of ineligible patients. Subcommittee Chair James Clyburn criticized what he called One Medical's irresponsible practices and demanded documents showing demographic breakdowns of the COVID vaccines they had administered, among other information. The company has said that they are, quote, "confident that we will be able to clear up these misunderstandings," end quote, and asserted that they have never knowingly vaccinated ineligible patients. And CEO Amir Dan Rubin made no apologies on a call with investors last week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMIR DAN RUBIN: Yeah, regarding this story, we strongly refute these gross mischaracterizations. Any assertions that we broadly and knowingly disregard eligibility guidelines are not true and in contradiction to our actual approach.

MAK: The problem appears to be widespread. Internal communications reviewed by NPR show that One Medical employees across multiple states sounded the alarm about lax oversight and improper practices. Regulators have started to step in. Eight local departments of health have stopped working with One Medical. One of these departments in San Francisco County said that not only was it halting allocations of the vaccine to the company but demanding 1,620 doses back. Another jurisdiction, San Mateo County, said it suspended work with the company after an investigation determined that One Medical vaccinated 70 ineligible patients. The company has said that it was caught off guard by some of these decisions.

Earlier, Bay Area Alameda County shut off allocations of the vaccine to the company after One Medical indicated to them that it had plans to vaccinate ineligible populations. Here's the company's chief medical officer, Andrew Diamond.

ANDREW DIAMOND: We continue to receive vaccine from Alameda County.

MAK: But Diamond backpedaled after I presented him with what the county told me.

But you - they told me that the allocation is ongoing. Is it ongoing?

DIAMOND: Our understanding, absolutely, is it's ongoing, meaning we have not received any communication to suggest that they don't intend to fill any future orders.

MAK: There's also been a concern that One Medical is trying to commercialize the COVID vaccination process, which will be a focus of the congressional investigation. The company's business model depends on patients paying a $199 annual fee for VIP health care. In Washington, D.C., where One Medical is partnering with D.C. Health, patients are directed to the company after making an appointment. One Medical then asks patients to register and offers patients a free trial of the company's concierge medical service. Here's Adam Peck, a D.C. resident who went through that process.

ADAM PECK: They were urging people to create a One Medical account after having already secured the vaccine appointment, and that was just not conveyed particularly clearly.

MAK: One Medical said that users needed to register in order to create a patient chart and that their focus was not to change these patients into long-term, dues-paying members. The company now has two weeks to hand over documents to Congress.

Tim Mak, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOLLOWED BY GHOSTS' "A NEW DAWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.