Monday, October 25, 2004

Low-income kids told to wait for flu shot

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - Some low-income children who qualify for flu shots may have to wait for their vaccinations because of questions over doctors being reimbursed through a Medicaid program.

Kent Ware, vaccine administrator for the Ohio Department of Health, recently sent doctors and health departments a letter saying they should not use privately purchased supplies for patients in a government program called Vaccine for Children.

Because of a national vaccine shortage, the state couldn't guarantee repayment or reimbursement through Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for the poor, Ware's letter said.

Mary Kahn, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services official, disputed the state and said doctors don't have to wait for their Vaccines for Children supply if they want to give a Medicaid patient a shot.

"If they don't have their VFC supply, they are to bill the state Medicaid program," Kahn said. "These children are entitled to these shots. There's no need for anybody to wait."

Kahn said she plans to send a memo to state officials, restating the policy.

Medicaid patients can get their shot immediately if they sign a letter stating that they will pay for the vaccine, said Jon Allen of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

One of the two main vaccine suppliers to the United States, Chiron Corp., has had trouble filling orders because part of its supply was contaminated.

The Ohio Department of Health is waiting on its shipment of 100,000 doses for the Vaccines for Children program, agency spokesman Kristopher Weiss said.

Doctors can order vaccines for privately insured patients through drug makers, but because the shots for Medicaid patients come through the government, low-income children could be denied the vaccine even if it is available.

Dr. Martha Geib, a pediatrician in London, 25 miles west of Columbus, has told some Medicaid patients to come back when a flu vaccine shipment arrives.

She only has enough on hand for privately insured patients who are considered high risk.

Angela Presley said the vaccine shortage amounts to discrimination against her 1-year-old son, D'Angelo, who suffers from a chronic respiratory virus and asthma.

While he was sent away without a shot on Oct. 16, Presley saw "kids were coming in and walking back and getting their shots."

Marshall Geib, the doctor's husband and business manager, said the privately insured patients who received their shot were high-risk patients. He said the flu season usually hits between December and March, so the state supply of vaccine should arrive in time for children covered by Medicaid to receive their shot.

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