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We can do better, Colorado!

Colorado: we are not average. This is something all Coloradans know and eagerly share with fellow out-of-staters. We see 300 days of sunshine every year, have the opportunity to ski, hike and climb world-class mountains, and we pride ourselves on being the “leanest” of 50 states. Not to mention we are consistently among the best-performing states — if not the best —regarding heart attacks, strokes, cancer and diabetes. But, as The Colorado Health Foundation’s 2012 Health Report Card points out, looks can be deceiving.

The Colorado Health Report Card, which launches today, reveals we’re far from the top of the class by many important measures in health and health care. Colorado ranked near the bottom (at No.37) in low birth-weight babies and near the top among worst states in adult binge drinking (at No. 36). And while we’re consistently ranked the “leanest” state, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data show a steady uptick in Colorado’s childhood obesity rate (currently at 14.2%).

Colorado kids aren’t getting the healthy start they deserve. Overall, the “Healthy Beginnings” life stage received a grade of C for 2012. “Healthy Beginnings” indicators include prenatal care, cigarette smoking, low birth weight, infant mortality, and childhood immunizations. Colorado’s average ranking among states for these indicators was slightly better than most at No. 21.5 out of 50 states. Policymakers, health care professionals and families can all do better to ensure that our children have a healthy beginning that can contribute to a longer, more joyful life.

CCIC was formed in 1991 to raise awareness and improve immunization rates in response to the alarming statistic that only 50-55% of Colorado children were adequately immunized against vaccine-preventable diseases. While we’ve made improvements, The Colorado Health Report Card shows that only 78.5% of preschool-age children received all recommended doses of six key vaccines.

We know that childhood vaccines are a safe, easy, and cost-effective way to help prevent disease and keep children healthy as they grow. Research shows that children who are vaccinated experience fewer doctor’s visits, hospitalizations and premature deaths. But, unfortunately, many kids don’t have access to routine vaccinations. That’s why we’re supporting a bill that would help keep Colorado kids healthy by providing better access to vaccines.

In 2011 alone, there were $11.5 million in hospitalization charges for children ages 0-4 years in Colorado with vaccine-preventable diseases (pertussis, pneumococcus, influenza, Hib, and varicella).  Just imagine if we were No. 1 for childhood immunization!

In 2011 alone, there were $11.5 million in hospitalization charges for children ages 0-4 years in Colorado with vaccine-preventable diseases (pertussis, pneumococcus, influenza, Hib, and varicella). Just imagine if we were No. 1 for childhood immunization!

Currently, many private doctors’ offices, especially rural practices in Colorado, are unable to keep up with the increasing costs and administrative burdens necessary to maintain an adequate supply of vaccines for their patients. Vaccine costs to fully immunize a child from 0 to 18 years of age have risen from $370 dollars per child in 2000 to $1,483 per child in 2010.

Health care providers must invest the capital and administrative resources to purchase, store and manage inventory on vaccines that are currently reimbursed through a complicated financing system that includes private insurance, the state General Fund, and two federal grant programs. As a result of this and a variety of other reasons, many doctors don’t provide vaccinations at all and instead refer patients to local public health agencies. With federal rules changing, these local public health agencies may have difficulty continuing to provide vaccines. In a state that experienced record numbers of pertussis (whooping cough) cases and five flu-related child deaths just last year, it’s a scary and very real possibility that there will be more outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases if we do not increase access to vaccines.

The goal of Senate Bill 222 is to increase access to vaccines by lowering the cost and making vaccine administration simpler and more effective for immunization providers across Colorado. The bill directs the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to engage in a stakeholder process to discuss a wide variety of issues related to vaccine financing, ordering, and delivery, and it allows CDPHE to then create rules based on the outcomes of this stakeholder process.

There are many current supporters of the bill including the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Children’s Hospital Colorado, the Colorado Medical Society and the Colorado Public Health Association. Please show your support for Senate Bill 222 by contacting your Colorado Senator and House Representative at the Colorado General Assembly website. (You can find your current legislator here.)

Our current system for funding childhood vaccines presents barriers to access, and Senate Bill 222 will help remove some of those obstacles so all Colorado kids can grow up healthy and strong.

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