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Obamacare Repeal Could Put Washington's Childhood Immunization Program At Risk

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo / file
FILE -In this Thursday, May 3, 2012 file photo, Nurses Fatima Guillen, left, and Fran Wendt, right, give Kimberly Magdeleno, 4, a whooping cough booster shot, as she is held by her mother, Claudia Solorio, at a health clinic in Tacoma, Wash.

If Congress repeals the Affordable Care Act without a comparable replacement, it could have a major impact on the immunization program for children in Washington state. The state depends on dollars from the ACA, also known as Obamacare, to pay for the procurement and distribution of children’s vaccines. Loss of funds could affect other public health programs as well, including the state’s program to test lead poisoning in children. Immunization Money Is Part Of Preventive Health Care Fund

When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress in 2010, it included the Prevention and Public Health Fund. The fund pays for everything from  Alzheimer’s education to diabetes prevention. It also includes money for  states to run immunization programs.

In Washington, the fund pays for 43 percent of the state’s vaccine program for children. In 2017, that amounts to just over $4 million.

What Does The Money Pay For?

The state does not have to buy the vaccines. That’s done by the federal government, which provides them for free, as part of a long-standing belief that childhood immunization is a cornerstone of the nation's public health system.

But ordering and distributing vials of vaccine to doctors' offices, making sure they are delivered to the right place at the right time and that the proper doses are available to children who need them is something the states do.

Paul Throne, with the Washington Department of Health's Office of Immunization, says much of the money is funneled through the state to county public health departments.

He says a state run computer system is able to track who’s been vaccinated and who’s due for a booster. Schools in Washington require that children be immunized before they are allowed to register, with some exemptions allowed. Throne says, in Washington, 95.5 percent of students are immunized. He says loss of the Prevention and Public Health Fund to pay for the vaccine program “would be devastating.”

“It is the heart of our program,” Throne said.

Funds Used To Test Children For Lead Poisoning Also At Risk

Another thing the Prevention and Public Health Fund pays for in Washington is the program that tracks lead poisoning in children. Throne says the state sends out kits to Head Start programs to test for lead poisoning. Low-income children are the most likely to be in environments where they are exposed to lead paint.

Throne says, without money, the state would not be able to send out those kits.

Money For Tracking Infectious Diseases Is Also Paid For Through The Prevention Fund

Washington also uses money from the Prevention and Public Health Fund to pay for lab testing for infectious diseases. Throne says, for example, the state lab in Shoreline is currently swamped because of the mumps and flu outbreaks in Washington.

He says funds are also used to help hospitals implement systems to track and prevent antibiotic resistant infections.

Throne says state public health officials plan to meet with Washington’s congressional delegation to talk about how elimination of the Affordable Care Act could impact public health programs in the state.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.