One Medical ‘prioritized doses for VIPs’ in SF vaccine rollout, Congress finds

Report says the company ‘diverted vaccine doses away from vulnerable populations’ in 2020 program

The San Francisco health care company One Medical “took advantage of access to coronavirus vaccines to benefit their own business and personal interests” which had the result of “diverting scarce doses away from vulnerable seniors, health care providers, and other front-line workers,” in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations last year, a U.S. congressional subcommittee has found.

In a memorandum, the House’s Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis cites evidence it says “raises serious questions about the company’s stewardship of vaccines” in The City and elsewhere.

Company correspondence released by Congress also show complaints that the company asked for credit card information from San Franciscans signing up for free vaccines and tried to sign up new members, seeking to “maximize revenue rather than free vaccinations,” according to the memorandum.

And the correspondence shows One Medical’s system allowed unqualified patients to sign up for vaccines early in The City when the shots were supposed to be going to health care workers and at-risk groups. “I am having difficulty getting my older, sicker patients vaccinated,” a One Medical nurse practitioner in San Francisco wrote in a company chat last winter, according to the memorandum.

The subcommittee, made up of a dozen members of Congress, looks at overall response to COVID-19. Democrat Maxine Waters of Los Angeles is the sole Californian on the subcommittee.

Starting in late 2020, One Medical, a $3.3 billion health care tech company that allows its 700,000 members to book appointments online, began working with public health departments, including those in San Francisco and San Mateo counties, on the allocation of coronavirus vaccine doses to its patients and members of the public.

The memorandum found “many health care providers — including but not limited to One Medical — took advantage of access to coronavirus vaccines to benefit their own business and personal interests.”

The company strongly disagreed with the memorandum, calling the findings “grossly one-sided” and based on “cherry-picked snippets taken out of context.”

A congressional report cited this email about a gift given to a One Medical employee who arranged vaccinations in San Francisco. (U.S. Congress)

A congressional report cited this email about a gift given to a One Medical employee who arranged vaccinations in San Francisco. (U.S. Congress)

The memorandum also claimed the head of One Medical personally made requests on behalf of certain people to get shots in The City. “Booking these folks at some point this week in SF would be great,” CEO Amir Rubin emailed an employee on Jan. 17, according to the memorandum. Rubin allegedly asked a One Medical employee to be a “go-to contact” to facilitate the requests.

And in February, a party whose name was redacted by congressional staffers emailed that “I sent a package as a token of appreciation for your help,” then asked for “your help to get a few appointments for this week,” and listed two people who live in Pacific Heights. The congressional memorandum found the “One Medical employee’s acceptance of the gift from the client, in return for allowing the client’s employees early access to vaccines, may violate One Medical’s Code of Business Conduct.”

Separately, on Jan. 8, the San Francisco Department of Public Health wrote to One Medical to report the company’s website was “asking for credit card info” after a medical practitioner complained she was unable to register for a vaccination appointment without inputting payment information, the congressional memorandum says.

And the subcommittee found the company allowed San Francisco patients to attest to their own qualifications for the vaccine online and get vaccinated when health care workers and seniors were supposed to be prioritized for vaccinations.

The documents show some One Medical employees speaking out against inequities and working to get doses to the prioritized patients in San Francisco. On Jan. 14, a Bay Area pediatrician asked in a company chat message, “Why do we have a list of essential workers if we are ignoring it and allowing self booking with no triage system in place?”

On Feb. 10, the One Medical nurse practitioner in San Francisco who was having trouble getting at-risk patients vaccinated wrote that workers were “hearing about younger ineligible patients having been vaccinated.” The employee wrote, “I really don’t understand how it is working right now even after I spent a day in an SF vaccine office.”

One Medical fired back in a statement to The Examiner that the congressional memo “is grossly one-sided and frequently mischaracterizes material that One Medical provided in cooperation with the subcommittee. The information we provided that did not fit their predetermined narrative was blatantly excluded in favor of cherry-picked snippets taken out of context. In addition, the company was not given the opportunity to address the staff’s findings before the memorandum was released.”

On the subject of VIPs getting early vaccinations, the company said, “Despite the report’s insinuations to the contrary, after months of investigation by the subcommittee, they did not find a single case where any individual was placed at the front of the line to the detriment of another person. If scheduling assistance was provided it was done so for eligible people and by using the same scheduling tools the company was using to book appointments for thousands of other individuals.”

One Medical said the company “responded promptly to concerns in real time, including terminating employees who did not adhere to the vaccine rules, strengthening its eligibility verification processes, and responding quickly to issues brought to its attention by public health authorities.”

The subcommittee wrote, “These problems were not unique to One Medical during the early vaccine rollout. Numerous other health care providers also reportedly gave priority access to vaccination appointments to personal and business contacts when vaccines remained in short supply.”

But the panel found “this conduct at One Medical, the involvement of the company’s senior leadership, and the possible business motivation underlying the desire to provide prioritized access to One Medical’s enterprise and concierge clients raises serious questions about the company’s stewardship of vaccines.”

jelder@sfexaminer.com

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