BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

Choosing Health Instead of Wealth

Posted by ywmguest on August 13, 2009

examination_table_4242We love our network of working women advocates. YWM encourages you to take control of your sexual health. Today’s guest blogger is FoxyLibrarian.

I was sitting on the examination table at my gynecologist’s office last week when the nurse practitioner asked me if I was planning to get my third Gardasil vaccine that day. I had been dreading that question, and not just because I hate needles so much that I’ve never even gotten my ears pierced.

I know from past visits like this one, and from the first two Gardasil shots, that my insurance company doesn’t cover the cost of the vaccine, so on top of my co-pay for the visit I would be looking at another $120.

It is estimated that up to 75% of the reproductive-age population is, or has been infected with some form of human papillomavirus or HPV.

This means that even if you have never been infected with HPV, there is a three-in-four chance that your next partner is carrying the virus. Most cases of HPV are relatively mild, but can be uncomfortable.  Small flat or raised warts on the genitals of both men and women are the most common symptom.  For many people, this is the end of the virus.

However, HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer, which affects over 9,000 American women each year.  This elevates the issue of HPV from one of sexual health, to a matter of life or death for thousands of women annually.

Luckily, the Gardasil vaccine can prevent between 70-90% of HPV cases, and save thousands of women from ever having to battle cervical cancer. The only problem: the vaccine is expensive, and many insurance companies don’t cover it.  In fact, Gardasil is the most expensive vaccine in production, and many pediatricians and gynecologists cannot afford to administer a vaccine that they may never be fully reimbursed for.

Some plans are saying I’ll give you $90, and not a penny more,” says Washington, DC pediatrician Promise Ahlstrom.

This leaves patients with two options:
Pay the $120 to $200 dollars per dose for Gardasil
OR
Do without

A full course of Gardasil is three doses, administered over the course of six months.  In order to pay the cost of syringes, gauze, proper biohazard disposal, and someone to administer the vaccine, doctor’s offices are often forced to charge the cost of an office visit for giving the vaccine.  A full course of Gardasil could end up costing a family or a young woman more than $700.

For many families, this is more than the cost of groceries for a month, and for many young women, this is more than a month’s rent.  Inevitably, many girls and young women will go without the vaccine, and face the consequences.

The CDC estimates that the cost of treating cervical cancer in the United States is over two billion dollars a year. If healthcare companies were to act proactively, and spend the same amount of money administering the Gardasil vaccine as they spend on treating cervical cancer, 2.86 million girls could be immunized every year.

Back on the examination table I considered my options, and chose to get the third dose of Gardasil.  It means that I will have to tighten my belt for the next couple of weeks, but I hope that the small investment I just made in my health will save me from the huge personal costs of battling cervical cancer down the line.  I just wish more insurance companies saw it that way.

photo credit

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5 Responses to “Choosing Health Instead of Wealth”

  1. Dr. Amy said

    I know you’re done, but future needle pain part can be helped by some distraction tricks or a little device called Buzzy. The vibration and cold block the sensation, at least while you get the shot. There are other techniques under “magic tricks for needle sticks” that don’t cost anything, and the reason why they work at buzzy4shots.com, but in a nutshell counting and finding tasks decrease pain by half. Count ceiling tiles! Count dots on ceiling tiles! Try to find how many pieces of hardware are on examining room cabinets. Imagine blowing breath out slowly in a color…etc.

  2. Ayoka said

    I understand that the purpose of this post is to highlight the continuing inequities in health coverage based on gender.

    HOWEVER, I take serious issue that this post makes references to young girls. Gardasil has NOT been tested for use in girls under the age of 17 and the CDC does NOT recommend that young girls receive this vaccination. In fact, there have been deaths of young girls possibly linked to this vaccine. Of course, the cool, upbeat advertisements pairing young girls and mothers does not warn of this. It plays on maternal instincts to protect a daughter from cancer- who wouldn’t rush to the doctor’s office seeking this preventive shot?

    What’s even more insidious- some states (and D.C.) have created policy requiring girls entering sixth grade to get this vaccine unless their parent opts out. If you are unaware of the risks, would you opt-out? Most don’t know they have that option, especially if the doctor recommends it. Why not have an opt-in…?

    The fact is there is no understanding of the long-term effects of Gardasil on young women because it is too new AND because its effectiveness has not been tested on them in the first place.

    Do the research.

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