Jul 09, 2017

Medicaid Helps Prevent Disease

Medicaid, the nation’s public health insurance program for low-income children, adults, seniors, and people with disabilities, covers 17% of Nevadans, including many with complex and costly needs for medical care and long-term services. More than half (59%) of the state’s Medicaid spending is for the elderly and people with disabilities. The current healthcare discussion in D.C. calls for far-reaching changes to Medicaid, including caps on federal funding for the program. What does this mean for Nevada? The new report Nevadans Will Lose Big under Health Bills in Congress indicates coverage for thousands would be in jeopardy.

Immunize Nevada has joined Nevadans Together for Medicaid as we recognize the role this crucial program plays in disease prevention. Medicaid enables access to a wide range of community providers and offers coverage of all recommended vaccines. It also ensures children are able to start school on time, helping them access the necessary immunizations required for enrollment.

There’s a clear connection between having health coverage and getting vaccinated. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Nevada’s childhood and adolescent immunization rates recorded double-digit increases, and during that same period, the number of uninsured children and adults substantially declined. Protecting coverage of cost-effective and life-saving vaccines is critical to building a healthy Nevada.

We have made great strides in eliminating disparities in childhood vaccination rates, but other barriers still persist. Research indicates these include: limited availability of providers; lack of awareness of the dangers of vaccine-preventable diseases; and complications arising from healthcare/Medicaid coverage gaps. Immunize Nevada and our partners work daily to reduce these barriers; however, the ACA repeal would not only exacerbate these issues, it would also create new concerns.

If you have visited a physician or clinic since 2010, you may have noticed there was no cost for certain services – like vaccinations, screenings, women’s preventive health. The ACA established “first dollar coverage,” mandating that insurance plans cover preventive services at no charge, resulting in increased access to life-saving vaccines for all ages. Only 36 Medicaid programs currently provide comprehensive coverage of recommended adult vaccines and just 17 of these programs offer first dollar coverage. Nevada is a leader in this area by offering both for Medicaid enrollees. Eliminating this benefit could place a devastating impact on Nevada’s immunization rates, as children and adults would potentially move to high-deductible insurance plans, possibly forcing them to not vaccinate due to large out-of-pocket costs. As a result, losing our positive momentum would be devastating, especially for areas of Nevada already struggling with access to healthcare.

The current national debate over the ACA repeal involves decisions that will affect funding available through the Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF) – impacting the people, the departments, and the advocates on the front lines when it comes to preventing illness and keeping us safe from Zika, influenza, measles, and other epidemics and emerging diseases. CDC’s Immunization Program receives the largest single investment from the PPHF, and if eliminated, states and local communities could see an estimated 45% cut in funding. The Immunization Program serves as a safety net: facilitating vaccine purchases for uninsured Nevadans, monitoring the safety of vaccines, building the immunization infrastructure, and responding to disease outbreaks. The possibility of losing millions in critical federal funds could cripple Nevada’s ability to prevent outbreaks and keep our communities healthy.

As Congress considers changes to the healthcare system, improving access to and utilization of immunizations must be a top priority. Because of the ACA, Medicaid Expansion, and the PPHF, hundreds of thousands of Nevadans have received increased access to vaccines and other preventive health services; allowing us to become a healthier state. Immunize Nevada aligns with hundreds of policy analysts, healthcare, and public health organizations in voicing concerns about the projected devastating Medicaid and insurance coverage losses under ACA repeal, and the proposed elimination of the PPHF.

Vaccines must be readily available, accessible, and affordable for everyone. We must do whatever we can, working together, to promote health and prevent disease in Nevada.

Do you have a Medicaid story to share? We're collecting real-life stories as part of the Nevadans Together for Medicaid project. Email us!

Heidi Parker, MA

As executive director of Immunize Nevada, Heidi Parker, MA leads and engages a diverse coalition of staff, volunteers, member organizations and funders so they are passionate about vaccines and access to preventive health care across Nevada’s rural, urban and frontier communities. Bringing over two decades of experience in nonprofit program management, fundraising and marketing, she has dedicated her career to being able to affect her community in a positive way, whether working with Head Start families, victims of violence, college students or Nevadans needing immunizations.

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