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Posts tagged: child immunization

Senator: Cash-strapped parents skipping kids’ shots

Here’s a link to my full story on Idaho’s child immunization dilemma: The state has the lowest child immunization rate in the nation, but budget cuts that hit July 1 are making it more expensive and more difficult for Idaho families to get shots for their kids. A legislative task force today called unanimously for reversing the cuts, at least through the end of this year; Gov. Butch Otter would have to approve. “I’m already getting calls from parents,” said Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home. “We already have a number of young parents who are planning not to immunize because they don’t have the money. … We really need to do something about that.”

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.

Panel: Shift the money

The Legislature’s joint Health Care Task Force has just voted unanimously to request the governor and the Health & Welfare Department to shift funds within the department to restore Idaho’s child immunization program through Jan. 1. Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, said, “Based on the conversation we’ve heard today, it seems like in the end this may ultimately be a cost savings. … We seem to be defeating some of the actions that we’ve taken in the past by not agreeing to this recommendation.” Former Govs. Phil Batt and Dirk Kempthorne both made raising Idaho’s dismally low child immunizations top priorities during their administrations.

Task Force Co-Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, warned that the Legislature will have to come up with money to keep the program going in January. “What the department is facing for their budget, particularly in Medicaid, in 2010 and 2011 - it isn’t pretty,” he said. But, he said, “I believe there’s actual evidence that the lack of immunization actually costs us more.” Health & Welfare official Dick Schultz said the department will follow whatever course the governor sets. “It would certainly buy us some time,” he said. “There was certainly some consternation on everyone’s part going into this.”

Cameron: Put the money back for child immunizations

Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said when the Legislature went along with the governor’s proposal to cut state funding for child immunizations, it didn’t intend to create the current situation. “We made decisions during the Legislature based on information that hasn’t … quite worked as anticipated,” he said. He asked the Health & Welfare Department how much it would take to keep the program operating through Jan. 1, 2010, reversing the cuts that went into effect July 1. H&W officials said they’ll work up an estimate and bring it back to the Health Care Task Force this afternoon.

Said Cameron, “What I’m thinking … we’re in a little bit of a pickle, and we can’t really address it until the next legislative session. In the meantime, there’s going to be a lot of consternation and concerns that people aren’t getting immunized.” Cameron said there are a couple of alternatives, including possibly shifting funding from another Health & Welfare program, or appealing to the governor for economic stimulus money. “The governor does have access to about $7 million for emergency situations,” he said. This afternoon, he said, depending on the figures Health & Welfare brings back, he’ll likely call for a vote of the Health Care Task Force on “whether or not the committee wants to suggest or request that the governor use some of that money to tide us over until Jan. 1st and buy us a little time.”

Sara Stover, DFM analyst for the Health & Welfare budget, said, “I think that seems like a completely feasible idea to take back. … It was something that the governor knew we were way behind in our immunization rates, and at that time the state was paying for everybody.” Some policy shift seemed desirable, she said. “I think he would’ve liked to have a little more time. Ideally, if there were some other options … this wasn’t something that we set out to do without having some options.” Said Cameron, “Maybe that’s a direction we can take. If we can get six months breathing time, maybe we can figure it out.”

State savings from cutting child immunizations: $2.8 mil

The amount Idaho’s saving by cutting state funding for child immunization in this year’s state budget: $2.8 million. Jane Smith, administrator of the state Division of Health, said the exact appropriation was $2,856,100, but that might have been a little on the low side because the state didn’t plan for inflation in the cost of vaccines.

Doctor: ‘I’ve had patients die’

Dr. Stephen Ryter, medical director of Blue Cross of Idaho, a pediatrician, told the Legislature’s Health Care Task Force, “We are No. 50 out of 50, as far as immunizations go.” He said, “People don’t think these diseases exist any more.” Yet, he said, “I’ve had a number of my patients die of meningitis.” When most of the population is immunized against serious diseases, the incidence of those diseases goes way down due to the phenomenon of “herd immunity,” Ryter told the lawmakers. “As we get lower and lower in our rates, we lose the effect of ‘herd immunity.’”

Blue Cross tried to set up a purchasing cooperative with the state when funding was cut for child immunizations, to allow at least those with Blue Cross insurance to still get vaccines that were purchased through a federal-state purchasing pool, which cuts their cost by 30 to 50 percent. “The group purchasing cooperative was a good idea,” Ryter said. “We were just shocked and disappointed when the bids came in.” There was only one valid bid, and it was actually higher than just buying the vaccines on the open market. “There has to be some kind of a fix for this, so that we can have a single supply,” Ryter said, “… improve our rates and have a net lower cost.” Task Force Co-Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, thanked Blue Cross for trying, even though it didn’t work out.

‘We were down to nickels and dimes’

Quizzed by lawmakers as to why Gov. Butch Otter, in his budget recommendation this year, called for cutting state funding for child immunizations - a cut the Legislature approved, but thought would be offset for a year by stimulus money, which didn’t come through - Sara Stover, Otter’s Division of Financial Management analyst for Health & Welfare, said, “It literally came down to the last days of the governor’s recommendation. We had to balance a budget, and we were down to nickels and dimes. … It was a big policy issue … and we didn’t think it was necessarily a great thing to just leap in like that.” But, she said, in the end it was simply “a fiscal issue.”

Idaho’s immunization rate ‘deplorable’

Idaho’s child immunization rate for the measles is lower than that of Indonesia, Pakistan or Croatia, and its rate for polio is below that of Botswana, Latvia and Sri Lanka, the Idaho Legislature’s Health Care Task Force was told just now. Now, on top of that, state budget cuts are making immunizations more expensive and more difficult for Idaho families to get. “We’re lowest in the country - we’re at 57 percent,” Jane Smith, administrator of the Division of Health in the state Department of Health & Welfare, told the panel, a rate she called “deplorable.”

Lawmakers have been hearing plenty about the funding cut. “It was a decision made first by the administration, and apparently we concurred by not funding it,” said task force Co-Chairman Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, who also co-chairs the Legislature’s joint budget committee. He recalled that when Health & Welfare came before the joint committee, Smith indicated that federal economic stimulus funds should ease the state’s immunization program through without changes for another year. She said that’s what they thought then - but the federal funding was far less than anticipated. “The decision was based on the state’s lack of resources - that’s where the money was cut,” Smith said. The cuts took effect July 1.

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About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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