Lawmakers approve money for child immunizations

The Legislative Interim Finance Committee voted Wednesday to use surplus welfare money to cover shortages in the program that immunizes Nevada's children.

Health Division Administrator Yvonne Silva raised the issue last month before the legislative committee on health care, saying the problem is both growing numbers of children who need vaccinations and the rising cost of the shots.

She had warned the state's immunization budget could fall nearly $1.2 million short this year

Silva and Human Resources Director Charlotte Crawford said the problem is that state officials still don't know how much the federal government, which pays the bulk of the tab, will include in its budget. The federal budget is still caught up in Congress.

Health Division spokesman Alex Haartz asked Wednesday for approval for the $1.2 million, which is needed to make sure all children can get immunized whether their parents have money or not.

But his counterpart, Bob Anderson of the state's Welfare Division told IFC that decreasing caseloads will mean enough money is available in his budget to cover the program.

Assembly Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, said a transfer between divisions would be better than hitting the state's already-depleted contingency fund for more money.

Jan Gilbert, a lobbyist for the Progressive Leadership Alliance, objected to the transfer, saying that Welfare has an opportunity for the first time in a decade to give recipients a badly needed increase in benefits and that she didn't want to see the state begin to spend the surplus on other projects.

But lawmakers said the immunization program is a good use for some of the welfare surplus money, which is expected exceed $20 million by the end of the two-year budget.

The shortfall occurred not only because Nevada is growing but because more people are relying on the state for immunizations. Silva said it now costs a total of $186.80 for the shots a child needs from age 2 until kindergarten.

Silva said the percentage of 2-year-olds immunized increased from 34 percent to 78 percent since 1990 and the incidence of several childhood diseases such as measles has dropped significantly.

She said one reason is that state health officials provide the immunizations to anyone who needs them, not just those who meet federal poverty guidelines.


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