Budget cuts lead to changes in immunization program

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
The Marion County Health Department has been receiving calls from residents concerned about rumors of recent changes in immunization policies.

“I’ve gotten three calls in two days about this,” said Anita Hooper, licensed practical nurse and immunization coordinator with the county health department.

“This is such timely information. I thought, ‘Boy, we really do need to get this in the paper.'”

Due to budget cuts, the health department will soon be filing insurance for those people who are covered by a health-insurance provider-a practice unheard of in the past.

This new policy will go into effect Oct. 1.

But those without private insurance will still receive immunizations under old guidelines.

“There were no laws changed,” Hooper said. “What did change is they’re cutting back the federal budget everywhere they can.”

Those receiving immunizations at the health department will be asked if they are covered with an insurance provider, a copy will be made of their insurance card and the information will be filed with their insurance company.

Children with no insurance, Medicaid and HealthWave low-cost/no-cost insurance programs will still receive immunizations with state and federally funded vaccines, as in the past.

“We will file with their medical card, or they pay an administration fee if they have no insurance,” Hooper said.

But those with insurance will receive vaccines purchased privately.

“They’re just making sure that vaccine purchased with federal dollars goes to people who are not insured,” Hooper said.

“We won’t use state vaccine anymore for people who have insurance.”

Prior to the first of October, the health department could give immunizations using state vaccine to all children across the board because there were two providers in the county-the health department and Preferred Medical Associates Hillsboro Family Practice Clinic.

“With only two providers that gave immunizations, we could give state-provided vaccine because the children in Marion County were underserved when it came to vaccine providers,” Hooper said.

But after recent budget cuts, the county was not considered underserved, and the health department must soon accept insurance cards for immunizations.

“The same vaccines will still be provided,” Hooper said. “We will just start filing insurance.”

Asked whether those with insurance will have to pay a deductible fee, Hooper said: “No. Most insurance companies pay 100 percent for vaccinations before the deductible is met.”

To avoid surprises when they go to the clinic at the health department, those with insurance can check with their provider about the company’s deductible policy prior to immunization.

After October, clients should bring their insurance card and a history of inoculations at the time of their visits, Hooper said.

She also addressed another issue circulating locally.

Will there be income guidelines after October that would preclude those people who have no insurance and are above a certain income level from getting vaccinations at the health department?

“No,” Hooper said. “At first, the Association of Kansas Health Departments was going to look at recommendations on some guidelines. But I haven’t seen anything like that.

“I would emphasize that no one will be turned away based on their ability to pay.”

Vaccines at the health department are available for all ages, from infants to elderly.

A typical schedule followed by the Marion County Health Department is as follows:

 Birth-Hepatitis B

Two months-Hepatitis B; diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP); Haemophilus Influenzae type b (Hib); inactivated polio; and pneumococcal (PCV).

Four months-DTaP, Hib, inactivated polio and PCV.

Six months-Hepatitis B, DTaP, Hib and PCV.

Twelve to 15 months-measles, mumps and rubella; varicella; Hib; and a fourth DTaP.

Eleven to 15 years old-tetanus booster.

Every 10 years following the teen tetanus booster-tetanus booster.

“We still offer Hepatitis B and Hepatitis A for adults and travelers,” Hooper said.

“Then, there’s always immunization for influenza as recommended.”

Immunizations are available during clinic hours Wednesdays from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.. And hours are extended to 6 p.m. on the first Wednesday of every month.

No appointments are necessary, Hooper said. It’s on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“The other days of the week, the health department is busy with other programs and appointments,” Hooper said. “So there’s not always a nurse available then.”

The busiest time of the year is before the school session begins, Hooper said.

“And for adult immunizations, it’s busy in October, when we start giving flu and pneumonia shots to adults.”

PMA offers the same immunizations available at the health department, said Judy Jantz, PMA office manager.

“We highly encourage parents to get their children vaccinated and keep them healthy,” Jantz said.

Hooper agreed and said: “We really feel like it’s important to continue to serve the children of Marion County. Immunizations are so very important. The preventable diseases are still out there.”

As school approaches, Hooper said she is not aware of any changes in the school immunizations offered in cooperation with the health department.

“We did go to the schools to do tetanus and hepatitis shots in the past,” Hooper said. “I feel those clinics will still be there if they see a real big need, and I don’t think that’s going to change.”

And back at the health department, Hooper said the new policy to file insurance will have minimal impact.

“It won’t change anything as far as the parents are concerned,” she said.

“They’ll still get their immunizations here, and this doesn’t go into effect until October. So getting this information in the paper will really help to get the word out.”

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