Cervical cancer vaccine bill debated

Proponents and opponents of a bill that would require certain Nevada health plans to cover Gardasil, the world’s first vaccine proven to prevent cervical cancer, testified Tuesday before the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.

A representative from Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus’ office said the bill could be voted on as early as today.

Most testified in favor of the bill, which was introduced by Titus in March.

“This vaccine is about preventing cervical cancer, and certainly providing the vaccination is significantly better than having to pay for the cost of the disease,” said Pat Elzy, legislative affairs director for Planned Parenthood in Reno. “We support the access and availability of the vaccine as well as continued pap smears and screening.”

Manufactured by Merck & Co., Gardasil protects against human papilloma virus, a known precursor to cervical cancer.

It was approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration for females ages 9 to 26 last June and is covered under state Medicaid and Nevada Check Up plans. Federal law requires that Medicaid cover all drugs approved by the FDA.

Opposing the bill were Nevadans for Affordable Health Care and the Nevada Association of Health Plans.

Both organizations oppose state mandates, saying they traditionally hurt smaller businesses.

“I agree with all the comments on this as an issue. It is a public health issue,” said Jack Kim on behalf of the Nevada Association of Health Plans. “The health plans are covering it. We are opposing mandates that ask us to do things that, in many cases, we are already doing.”

A representative from Pacific Care also spoke in opposition to the bill, saying the focus should be on girls who can’t afford the vaccine.

The vaccine costs between $130 and $150 and is given in three doses.

Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, chairman of the committee, said the bill wouldn’t cost the state any money.

However, he said it would have some fiscal impact on individual counties.

“They’re (costs) not gigantic,” he said. “A lot of them just say an increase in expenses, but they are very miniscule.”

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