May 16, 2024 - News

Polk County to require vaccine payment upfront

Illustration of a wallet with hundred-dollar bills inside it, and a syringe being stuck into it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Payment for many immunizations will be required upfront starting in coming months at the Polk County Health Department (PCHD), spokesperson Addie Olson tells Axios.

Why it matters: Vaccinations help prevent communicable diseases, but local taxpayers can get stuck with the bill when private insurance companies deny claims.

State of play: The health department has historically billed insurance after vaccines were provided.

Yes, but: The bills are increasingly going unpaid, Polk County administrator John Norris told supervisors in a memo earlier this month.

  • The health department last month identified more than $26,000 in outstanding vaccine bills in a five-month period that ended in October, mostly those required for travel

Zoom in: The new policy will not generally affect how vaccines are billed for children, except for those that are exclusively required for travel.

  • People on Medicaid or Medicare won't see changes either.

The intrigue: Demand for travel vaccines has remained high since the end of the pandemic.

  • In recent months, PCHD's appointments for them have been consistently booked weeks in advance, Olson said.

The big picture: Health advocates have for years called on Congress to clarify regulatory policy to ensure that all CDC-recommended and doctor prescribed travel vaccines are covered by insurance without patient cost-sharing requirements.

  • Travelers on limited budgets might be at increased risk for preventable infections with treatment far exceeding the cost of vaccines, per the CDC.

Stunning stat: Some recommended or required travel vaccines like one to prevent respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) can cost more than $500, according to the PCHD.

What's next: The new billing process will begin after the department completes system and technology updates, Olson said.

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