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A bipartisan group of senators have introduced legislation to provide Medicare beneficiaries access to vaccines at no additional cost.

The Protecting Seniors through Immunizations Act of 2019 would improve access to all recommended vaccines for Medicare beneficiaries, including shingles and tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap), with the goal of helping to increase vaccination rates.

U.S. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., introduced the legislation.  

“While we often think of vaccines as something we get as children, more than 50,000 adults die from vaccine-preventable diseases each year,” Capito said in the release. “The Protecting Seniors through Immunizations Act of 2019 will help to increase awareness about recommended vaccines and reduce the financial hurdles – including high-cost sharing, which prevents too many seniors from this cost-effective means of reducing disease and saving lives.”

Immunization coverage varies by vaccine under Medicare. Some immunizations, such as the flu, hepatitis B, and pneumococcal vaccines, are covered under Medicare Part B and available without additional out-of-pocket spending. Vaccines covered under Medicare Part D, including the shingles and Tdap vaccines, often require significant beneficiary cost-sharing, which in turn contributes to low uptake.

Vaccination rates remain low for both Tdap and shingles, the release said, and a 2018 study showed that higher out-of-pocket spending for these two vaccines was associated with higher rates of cancelled vaccinations, suggesting cost was a barrier.

In the study, if beneficiaries faced out-of-pocket spending of more than $50, they were nearly three times more likely to cancel the vaccination, compared with $0 cost-sharing.

— Email: wholdren@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @WendyHoldren

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