Former and active military will now have their own chance at winning big by getting vaccinated as Gov. Jay Inslee announced “A Heroes Thanks,” a program designed to fill a gap in the state’s existing vaccine lottery.
During a press conference on June 17, Inslee announced a separate lottery for those who have received the vaccine through the Department of Defense or the Department of Veterans Affairs. Starting on July 20, winners will be announced weekly for cash prizes of $100,000 for the first two weeks and $250,000 for the third. Other incentives include gift cards from Amazon and Washington State Parks.
“Clearly, these are some of our most treasured Washingtonians,” Inslee said.
Those vaccinated through the DOD and the VA weren’t included in the “Shot of a Lifetime” vaccine lottery because the federal government would not give those identities to the state for its program, he said.
Information on vaccinated active duty service members aren’t given to the state for automatic entry, Inslee said, requiring those individuals who received shots through the DOD to submit their names into the program.
“We urge all our veterans, service members, and their families to take the shots, present arms,” said Alfie Alvarado, from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, mentioning she recently lost a dear friend to the disease. “You can be a winner in this special lottery, but more importantly, you will be a winner at life.”
Inslee said although the cash prizes are smaller than the up to $1 million the general Washington population is eligible for outside of DOD and VA vaccinations, the smaller pool of potential winners makes it more likely for a current or former service member to win.
“These are our heroes, they’re deserving. I think there’s a good argument they got a little better deal than non-heroes for this, which is what we were shooting for,” Inslee said.
Alongside the lottery announcement, Inslee also said Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler would issue an emergency order allowing medical providers to bill insurance companies for proactively reaching out to patients to talk about the benefits of vaccination.
“We think that this can put to work a very powerful force in our state, which is our physicians who we listen to on a daily basis in our most intimate health decisions,” Inslee said.
The measure would combat “deception and outright falsehoods” that have fomented concerns about vaccination, he said.
“When they get the truth, when they get the real lowdown from their doctors, they then realize getting this vaccine makes sense,” Inslee said.
He added a Kaiser Family Foundation poll showed eight out of 10 people turned to their medical provider for information about vaccination.
Inslee said the order is the first step in the initiative “to really bring our physicians into this battle” for vaccination, with more steps to come.
“There are so many reasons to look at this vaccine as a miracle drug in the face of this pandemic,” Kreidler said.
He said the order had guidelines so it can’t be abused to “enrich” providers by billing costs that would end up getting paid by the patient.
“We’re working closely … both with the insurers and with the provider community to make sure this strikes the appropriate balance and we’ll be monitoring it closely,” Kreidler said.
Inslee said he would issue an order through the Washington State Health Care Authority to offer the same incentive for providers in Medicaid, public and school employee programs.
The new incentives come after a drop in vaccination rates in the state and nationwide, Inslee said. The state saw a decline in first doses received in the second half of May, Washington State Department of Health Deputy Secretary for COVID-19 Response Lacy Fehrenbach said, noting it has slowed even further in recent weeks. Inslee said the reduction was almost 50 percent each week.
“We essentially had fallen off a cliff,” Inslee said. “We have arrested that decline, largely, and that’s good news.”
Fehbrenbach said between 10,000 and 15,000 first doses are currently administered in the state on an average day. She said the state is at 67.8 percent of Washington residents 16 and older who have at least one vaccine dose and the state would need about 130,000 more to hit the 70 percent threshold.
Fehrenbach said it was “absolutely possible” to hit that threshold before June 30, when the state plans to remove the vast majority of COVID-19 restrictions in place. Should the state hit the threshold beforehand, it could open up immediately, the governor has said.
“There is ample supply. There is ample capacity,” Fehrenbach said. “We just need Washingtonians to step forward.”