Sacramento – The California Medical Association (CMA) is working to address a number of issues around immunization policy in California with three sponsored bills.
SB 1318 (Wolk) would require all health care workers in health care facilities, including physicians, to either receive the influenza vaccination or wear a mask to help prevent the spread of influenza. According to the Centers for Disease Control, health care workers who receive vaccines reduce the transmission of influenza, staff illness and absenteeism, and influenza-related illness and death, especially among people at increased risk for severe influenza illness. Despite these facts, the influenza coverage for health care workers during the last influenza season was estimated at only 63.5%. It was only in those facilities that had vaccination requirements that the coverage exceeded 90%.
In November 2011, CMA joined together with a coalition of health care professionals urging the recommendation of flu vaccines for health care workers. The letter came on the heels of National Influenza Awareness Week.
Part of the research on immunization policy showed that California is one of 20 states that allows for the broad use of the personal belief exemption (PBEs) from immunizations required for children to enter school. In California, obtaining a personal belief exemption is simple — parents are only required to sign their name to a two-sentence standard exemption statement on the back of the California School Immunization Record (the “blue card”), or provide a signed written statement.
AB 2109 (Pan) would require a parent or guardian seeking a PBE for their child to first obtain a document signed by themselves and a licensed health care practitioner that says the parent or guardian was informed of the benefits and risks of the immunization, as well as the health risks of the diseases that a child could contract.
“We must find a way to educate Californians about the benefits of immunization and the risks of the harmful and preventable diseases out there,” said James T. Hay, M.D., CMA President. “We haven’t done that very well in California. These bills will ensure that health care workers and parents are informed about the importance of vaccines.”
While CMA advocates for better education and policy associated with immunization, the organization, representing 35,000 physicians, also aims to address discrepancies in vaccine reimbursements for health care providers. AB 2063 (V. Manuel Perez) would require a health care service plan or health insurer that provides coverage for childhood and adolescent immunization to reimburse a physician for no less than the actual cost of acquiring and administering the vaccine. The bill would also prohibit the imposition of deductibles, coinsurance or other cost-sharing mechanisms for the administration of childhood or adolescent immunizations.
“If we’re going to ask more people to get immunized and to become educated about the benefits of vaccines, then it only follows suit that those immunizations need to be fully reimbursed by health plans and insurers,” said Dr. Hay. “Pediatric immunizations have proven to be one of most successful, safe and cost-effective public health interventions of the 20th and this century. Pediatricians and family physicians are integral to providing basic preventive medicine to children in California, and while many have willingly continued to offer vaccines at a real cost to themselves, they can no longer subsidize this service. This is a critical safety net for vulnerable children that ought not to be jeopardized.”
“We’re moving forward with an aggressive package of sponsored legislation, including these three bills related to immunization policy, because these are issues that affect everyone in California and will only benefit the greater public health,” added Dustin Corcoran, CMA CEO.