A bill that would create an HPV vaccine-awareness campaign and require insurance companies and Medicaid to pay for the controversial shots passed unanimously through the House Health & Human Services committee Thursday. House Bill 1301, unlike Senate Bill 80, would not require school-age girls to get the vaccine.
Opponents to the bill expressed concern over the safety of the vaccine and the influence of its manufacturer, drug maker Merck.
One parent testifying said the awareness campaign would result in “basically free advertising for Merck.” The bill would also create the Cervical Cancer Immunization Fund, which would pay for the $360 vaccinations for under-insured girls. According to the bill’s fiscal note:
The bill directs a transfer of $1.5 million from the Prevention, Early Detection, and Treatment Fund to the Cervical Cancer Immunization Fund. These funds would otherwise be used for breast and cervical cancer screening for low income women. In the current fiscal year, funding for breast and cervical cancer screening is $3.6 million. HB07-1301 reduces this funding by 42 percent.
Rep. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, said she was concerned that money would be diverted from cancer screening for older women in order to pay for younger girls to be vaccinated.
“Are we robbing Peter to pay Paul?” she asked.
Bill co-sponsor Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction, said he was fairly certain the prevention fund wouldn’t be affected.
Several doctors including Dr. Ned Calonge, chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, testified in support of the bill.
While the testing during trials of the vaccine has been questioned, Dr. Calonge said the vaccine is safe. He said most of the side effects were associated with the injection site of the shot and were not serious.
“The benefits outweigh the risks,” he said.
Buescher said that after talking to his daughter, a medical student, he felt morally obligated to sponsor the bill.
“I have not met with Merck,” he said. “I am carrying this bill because it’s the right thing to do.”