Health & Medicine

Doctors in SLO County frustrated over high cost of vaccines

The high cost of vaccines is a problem in San Luis Obispo County, said County Medical Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein.

Vaccination prices have gone from single digits to sometimes triple digits in the past two decades, creating dilemmas for doctors and their patients as well as straining public health budgets. Some doctors around the nation have stopped offering immunizations because they say they cannot afford to buy these potentially lifesaving preventive treatments that insurers often reimburse poorly, sometimes even at a loss.

“We hear from pediatricians frequently that they are frustrated that they don’t recoup their actual costs in vaccinating their patients,” Borenstein said, “but none have actually ceased to provide the vaccinations.”

The federal government pays increasingly steep prices to continue to provide vaccines for free to pediatricians who participate in the Vaccines For Children program, which provides free immunizations to children whose families are uninsured or have Medi-Cal.

But the program doesn’t cover the full cost of an office visit which, along with the accompanying regulatory hassles, caused one local pediatrician to drop out of the program, Borenstein said.

Even with such federally subsidized programs, “vaccine cost remains a challenge for some California health care providers,” said Corey Egel, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health.

Several years ago, the Health Officers Association of California, the lobbying arm for county health officers, sponsored a bill in the Legislature to mandate that insurers reimburse physicians for the full cost of vaccines, the office visit and administrative costs, Borenstein said. The bill failed.

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