Health administrator says immunization money may run short

Nevada's child immunization program could be as much as $1.2 million short, the state health administrator told lawmakers Tuesday.

Yvonne Silva told the legislative committee on health care the problem is both growing numbers of children who need vaccinations and the rising cost of the shots.

But she and Human Resources Director Charlotte Crawford said the big problem is that state officials still don't know how much the federal government, which pays the bulk of the tab, will include in its budget. The federal budget is still caught up in the political wars in Congress.

"But, because we do not know what our federal grant will be Jan. 1, I anticipate a shortfall of anywhere from $760,000 to $1.2 million," she said.

Not only is the state growing, she said more and more people are relying on the state for immunizations. And she said it now costs a total of $186.80 for the shots a child needs from age 2 until kindergarten.

Silva said the division will have to approach the Interim Finance Committee for cash to make up the shortfall. But members of the committee including Vivian Freeman, D-Reno, expressed concern the request might have trouble competing for the limited amount of available contingency money.

"We will take it forward in the interest of public health," said Silva. "To not look at that request will cost the state a lot more than the $1.2 million."

Crawford said Nevada has pushed to make sure as many children get immunized for childhood diseases including measles, mumps and others and that part of the problem is the success of that effort.

Silva told the committee the percentage of 2-year-olds who were immunized increased from 34 percent to 78 percent since 1990 and the incidence of several childhood diseases such as measles has dropped significantly.

She said one reason is that state health officials provide the immunizations to anyone who needs them, not just those who meet federal poverty guidelines.

"Ours is a very open program," she said.

But that had meant an increasing percentage of parents in the state who rely on the program.

The legislative committee was also told more than 7,200 kids are now covered by health benefits through the Nevada Check Up program.

That program, created to serve the needs of children when their parents work but can't afford or find normal health insurance, celebrated its first birthday last week. It provides benefits to children of families making up to double the federal poverty levels but not covered by Medicaid.

Health Care Financing and Policy Director Janice Wright told the committee another 500 applications for children are in the works and that she expects the total next year will reach the 11,750 children budgeted for by the state.

"There's been a steady increase," said Wright.


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