Bexar County employees could receive a rebate of up to $1,000 rebate off their health insurance premiums for getting fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Bexar County commissioners unanimously approved a program Tuesday that would allow fully vaccinated county employees to collect up to $1,000, depending on the kind of health insurance policy they have with the county. Employees insured outside of the county can collect $500 if they are fully vaccinated, County Manager David Smith said. The amount employees receive as a rebate will be based on how much they pay in premiums.

Though he still has to work out the details, such as how to have employees report their vaccination status and how to pay them the rebate, Smith said, “the basic notion is to incentivize employees to get vaccinated.”

Commissioners applauded the idea.

“It’s not a mandate, but a strong incentive,” said Commissioner Trish DeBerry (Pct. 3) said. “And it’s not just writing a check for getting a vaccine. This is a reimbursement for what they’re already paying a premium for in their policy.”

The rebate would be funded with federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act; Bexar County expects to receive a total of $388 million for coronavirus recovery efforts, half of which it has already accepted from the federal government.

“We’ve talked about this for a long time; we knew we could compensate employees and had flexibility to use those funds,” Wolff said. “It made sense to say to the employees, ‘Get your vaccination by the end of this year.’”

The county vaccination rebate will apply retroactively as well, which means employees who have already been fully vaccinated can still receive money back.

“I never liked the idea of saying, ‘Let me give you an award to get a vaccination when everyone else has done the right thing,’” Wolff said. “This does it for everybody.”

Commissioners set Oct. 15 as the deadline for county employees to be fully vaccinated and show proof to the county in order to receive the rebate. They had originally considered Dec. 15, but Commissioner Tommy Calvert expressed concern that the later date would not convey the urgency of getting vaccinated while the delta variant circulates and more people are contracting the coronavirus.

“The virus is spreading eight times faster than it did before and we can already feel it,” Calvert said.

The county will also explore how to provide a rebate to non-county employees who work at county facilities as contract workers, which mostly comprises cleaning staff and security, who had to work during the pandemic.

University Health President and CEO George Hernandez said as of Tuesday, there were 390 vaccination sites in Bexar County. Hernandez stressed the importance of vaccination, as hospital beds continue to fill up with unvaccinated patients, straining resources.

“Nurses can’t turn away someone who is unvaccinated and say, ‘You brought this on yourself.’ That’s not an appropriate answer,” he said. “They have to take care of the unvaccinated and they have to take care of the vaccinated. They want to help people. But they’re tired, they have families too.”

To help staff the hospital, University Health entered into a contract Monday for 71 temporary nurses, who are more expensive than permanent nurses and therefore require more taxpayer money to fund, Hernandez said.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.