Doctors speak out about vaccine costs - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Doctors speak out about vaccine costs

April 2, 2007

Albany --  The number of vaccines Georgia's children must have is increasing, and with it, the costs doctors must pay to make those vaccines available. Often doctors must pay for those vaccines up front, and later recoup the costs.

A costly proposition-- when some of the vaccines can cost over $300.

Some pediatricians say they may refuse to offer some vaccines, because of the costs.

This fall Georgia is requiring children to have an additional dose of vaccine for chicken pox and a vaccine for bacterial meningitis. Keeping those vaccines available along with others like the new HPV vaccine can add up to significant costs for doctors. In fact a pediatric office here in south Georgia spent $200,000 last year on vaccines alone.

Ellie Stone is a year old, and just got her first dose of the chicken pox vaccine. New state requirements means Ellie will need a second dose once she starts school. The more required vaccines, the bigger the cost for doctors.

"Last year our little three doctor pediatric office paid over $200,000 to pharmaceutical companies for vaccines," said Dr. Bruce Smith, a pediatrician at Southwest Georgia Pediatrics, PC. 

Many of the required vaccines are not cheap. They start as low as $22.00 for the Hepatitis A vaccine now required in Georgia, to $75.00 for a chicken pox vaccine, $82.00 for a Meningitis vaccine, and $120.00 for one of the three HPV vaccines.

"And I know that people think doctors are getting rich giving these shots, but I can assure you that it's the drug companies that make the profit, we just get an administration fee," Dr. Smith said. 

"For the most part we do pay for those up front and then we have a period of time, we have to carry the cost while we wait for payment so it is a significant financial burden on us," said Dr. Jason Hester, also a pediatrician at Southwest Georgia Pediatrics, PC. 

Parents are aught in the middle.  "We want the very best for her, we want the vaccines that she needs to be able to withstand all the things that she needs to and we hope the price stays reasonable we don't want it to be too unreasonable for doctors or for us either," said parent Chad Stone.

Doctors say the prices in some cases are unreasonable and without the help of state programs, some doctors are considering not offering the vaccines at all.

"Definitely," said Dr. Smith.  "I've heard stories, about some of the pediatric offices who won't stock the vaccines, and for our offices a few years ago when they came out with the new meningococus vaccine, the insurance companies were paying us only a fraction of our own costs and we couldn't afford to lose the money on the shots."

Eventually Southwest Georgia Pediatrics offered the meningitis vaccine but had to wait until insurance companies would reimburse their office to offer the vaccine. Dr. Smith said that vaccine over the last ten years has made a difference in the number of meningitis cases seen by doctors.

Doctors say there is help for doctors and parents through the state's Vaccine For Children program. The program provides free vaccines to public and private providers for children who are medicaid enrolled, un-insured, or under-insured.

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