HPV vaccine for boys: Some insurance companies deny coverage

A potentially life-saving vaccine might not be available for some children, simply because they're boys.
May 5, 2014 12:00:00 AM PDT
A vital vaccine for kids may be covered for your daughter, but not for your son. Some insurance companies consider the HPV vaccine experimental for boys -- even though it's recommended by the federal government as one of the best ways to prevent certain types of cancer later in life.

Fresno mom Christy Rodgers is already planning ahead to give her 3-year-old son, Gage, a healthy future. Rodgers intends to get him vaccinated against the human papillomavirus at the recommended age of 11. HPV can eventually cause cervical cancer in women and other types of cancer in men.

"It was a decision my mom made for me when I was a teenager, and so I'm glad she did," said Rodgers.

When that time comes for her son, Rodgers says she'll have peace of mind, knowing he'll be vaccinated against one of the most common, sexually transmitted diseases.

"Hopefully I've raised him not to do so, but if he does, I know that he's protected against that," said Rodgers.

Fresno Dr. James Kratzer is Gage's pediatrician and offers the most well-known HPV vaccine to all his pre-teen patients.

"Being able to prevent these terrible diseases is a very wonderful advance in medicine," said Dr. Kratzer.

Dr. Kratzer was involved in the clinical trials for Gardasil so he's been offering it to patients for years. But even with FDA approval for both girls and boys, getting insurance coverage for the vaccine for boys has been an ongoing challenge.

"It has been one of many nightmares," said Dr. Kratzer.

Some insurance companies consider the vaccine experimental for boys. But patients don't have to go without it if they can't pay for it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides the vaccine for free for patients who don't have coverage, through providers, like Dr. Kratzer. Gardasil can cost up to $500. It's a series of three shots over a 6-month period. Other providers consider the vaccine a necessary part of health care for both girls and boys.

"We're very committed to making sure we have our patients vaccinated," said Dr. Yvonne Juarez, Chief of Pediatrics at Kaiser Permanente Fresno.

Dr. Juarez says preventing HPV is vital in the next generation because the virus can go undetected, until it's too late.

"You don't have symptoms of it and you can have it for years, and then later on down the road you can be diagnosed with different types of cancers. It can cause throat or tongue cancers, it can cause cervical or penile cancers," said Dr. Juarez.

A public service announcement by the CDC encourages families to have their children immunized, but some parents resist, believing the vaccine could encourage sexual behavior. Other parents like Fresno dad Nick Hustedde believe prevention comes first.

"We know that vaccine does not protect against behavior, and it doesn't inhibit behavior; it doesn't encourage behavior," said Hustedde.

Both Hustedde and Rodgers are protecting their children years before they make those behavior choices, hoping a dose of prevention provides a good shot at a long and healthy life.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a list of Valley doctors who are part of the Vaccines for Children program, which provides many vaccines, including Gardasil, for uninsured and underinsured kids. For more information, visit www.cdc.gov.


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