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The Reintroduction of the Shingles Prevention Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

THE REINTRODUCTION OF THE SHINGLES PREVENTION ACT -- (House of Representatives - February 12, 2009)

Ms. HIRONO. Madam Speaker, I rise today to reintroduce the Shingles Prevention Act. I would like to thank Neil Abercrombie, Tammy Baldwin, Donna Edwards, Barney Frank, Al Green, Raul Grijalva, Maurice Hinchey, Jim McDermott, Jan Schakowsky, Louise Slaughter, and Gene Taylor for joining me as original cosponsors of this bill.

Many of us have had shingles or know of others, especially over the age of 60, who have. In 2006 a new vaccine was created that prevents occurrence of shingles or dramatically reduces the symptoms and pain of shingles. Experts agree that adults over the age of 60 should receive this immunization.

Half of us will experience shingles by the time we are 80. Shingles is a painful skin rash often accompanied by fever, headache, chills, and upset stomach. What is more pressing is that one in five shingles patients will endure post-herpetic neuralgia--severe pain lasting much longer than the rash itself. The pain can be so intolerable that patients are housebound, and there have been cases of suicide from the disease. Shingles is most common among seniors because the immune system wanes with age, making Medicare beneficiaries the best candidates for the vaccine.

Since its development in 2006, the shingles vaccine has been recommended for adults 60 years or older by the Centers for Disease Control. However, current Medicare Part D coverage of the vaccine is insufficient. Not all beneficiaries are enrolled in Part D or another drug prescription plan. More important, seniors are facing high out-of-pocket costs due to a lack of coordination among doctors, pharmacies, and Part D plans. For example, there is no established direct billing method between doctors and plans for Part D vaccines. Because of this, beneficiaries typically must pay the full price up front, which results in out-of-pocket costs that limit access to those that need the vaccine the most--our seniors.

The billing problem, the resulting low utilization of the vaccine, and costly storage requirements are enough to keep many doctors from stocking the vaccine. When doctors do not stock, beneficiaries' only alternative is to obtain the vaccine from pharmacists. But many states do not allow pharmacies to administer Part D vaccines, so the beneficiary has to take the vial from the pharmacy back to the physician's office. Thus, a senior who is thinking about getting vaccinated would have to go first to the doctor's office for a consult, then to the pharmacist, then back to the doctor for the shot.

Not surprisingly, many seniors are not getting immunized against shingles. This low utilization rate contributes to the half a billion dollars of treatment costs per year and, for hundreds of thousands of seniors, many weeks spent suffering from a disease that could have been prevented.

The Shingles Prevention Act will move shingles vaccine coverage to Part B--thus treating it in the same manner as the flu vaccine under Medicare, simplifying the process for physicians and beneficiaries, and lessening the cost burden for our seniors. This is a common sense and cost effective way to increase access to high quality health care for our seniors, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure its passage.

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