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Eye On Boise

Thu., July 16, 2009, 3:10 p.m.

How child immunization cuts are affecting Idaho families

Click below to read about how Idaho ended up cutting state funding for child immunization, an area in which the state now ranks the lowest in the nation and that was a top priority for past governors to improve, and how that's affecting Idaho families and medical providers across the state.

Gov. Butch Otter's budget this year recommended cutting $2.8 million, and the state Health & Welfare Department thought it could get federal economic stimulus money to cover the loss for a year while changes in the program could be considered. JFAC Co-Chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, told Jane Smith,   administrator of the state Division of Health, that he recalled that when Health & Welfare officials were questioned by JFAC about the issue, "My impression was you're a good soldier, but this wasn't exactly what you thought should happen." Smith responded that the department was relying on the stimulus money. "We thought, OK, it'll buy us a year," she said.

But the situation was made even worse when Idaho was penalized by the feds for having such low child immunization rates, cutting further into funding for the program. Now, it'd cost $4.2 million in state money to run the program for a full year, rather than the $2.8 million it cost before.

Here's how it's affecting Idaho families: Since 1994, the state has purchased vaccines for all Idaho children up to age 18, and supplied them both to public health districts and to private providers such as doctors and hospitals. People may be charged a fee for injecting the vaccine, but the antigen itself is free. That's because the state was able to buy it from a federal bulk purchasing pool that saved 30 to 50 percent off the cost of the vaccines. Now, since the state funding was cut, the only people eligible for vaccine purchased from the federal pool are children on Medicaid, those who are Native American or uninsured, or those whose insurance specifically excludes any coverage of immunizations. For anyone else, they'll have to pay. The average cost of immunizations for a child from birth to age 18 is $4,300. Depending on a particular family's insurance coverage, between deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance, they could have to pay up to that full amount.

Plus, doctors and hospitals now will have to purchase the vaccines twice, at two different prices - those for children eligible for the federal purchasing pool, and those for the kids who aren't - and they have to  account for them separately. It's a big enough hassle and up-front cost that many providers are simply stopping administering vaccines to kids at all; today, Russell Duke, director of the Central District Health Department in Boise, said 33 percent of providers in his district have stopped giving the shots, at least temporarily. The result: When families go to their doctor for shots for their kids, many are being told they'll have to pay a big price up-front, or they're being told they can't get the shots there and being referred elsewhere. That's a major, identified risk factor for kids not getting all their required immunizations. Public health districts are seeing huge jumps in families seeking kids' vaccinations as a result of the other providers backing  off; they have no additional funding to handle the jump.

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Eye On Boise

Short takes and breaking news from the Idaho Legislature and the state capital.