Local News

State funding for children's vaccines cut off

Posted July 22, 2010 12:36 p.m. EDT
Updated July 22, 2010 6:54 p.m. EDT

— A state program that pays for children's immunizations that are required for school attendance has been ended, shifting the cost onto insurers and a federal health program.

Funding for North Carolina's Universal Childhood Vaccine Distribution was cut on July 1. The program was the victim of budget cuts as lawmakers worked to close an $800 million shortfall in the 2010-11 state budget.

"I'm frankly very surprised that with the emphasis on preventative care, the state's not covering vaccines," said Camino Anthony, the mother of an 11-year-old girl.

Under the 16-year-old program, the state of North Carolina bought vaccines for children who weren't covered under a federal program. The vaccines were distributed to private and public health care facilities, where they were administered for free. Providers were allowed to charge an administration fee.

The program cost $21 million at its height. Funding was reduced by $6.5 million last year and cut off completely this year.

The new state law stipulates that insurers must reimburse doctors for administering vaccines.

That means part of the cost of vaccines, which can cost $100 or more, will likely be shifted onto patients with insurance.

"Parents may have to pay out-of-pocket fees for co-payments or deductibles and may have to pay for part of the vaccine cost," said Beth Rowe-West, with the North Carolina branch of the federal Vaccines for Children program.

"We see that as a possible additional financial burden," said Dr. John Rusher, with Raleigh Pediatric Associations.

Doctors will also bear part of the cost. Private health care providers will have to buy the vaccines up front and wait for insurance companies to reimburse them.

Rusher said the overhead for that can be high.

"I'm concerned and worried (that) some practices will say it's not worth it and say you need to get vaccines elsewhere," he said.

Rowe-West expressed concern that more people might go to public health departments for immunizations or simply might not get their immunizations.

"Studies did show that if you refer the child away from the provider, they may not get the vaccine, because they may have to travel somewhere else to get that," Rowe-West said.

The federal Vaccines for Children program provides all the recommended and required vaccines for children who are eligible for Medicaid,  uninsured, under-insured or an American Indian or Alaska native. The state estimates that about 67 percent of children in North Carolina qualify for the program.