Adequate Flu Vaccine Planned For This Fall
Mindful of the disturbing situation last fall when sufficient supplies of flu vaccine were not available, placing the very young and very old at risk, a government agency has recommended that the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) take steps to ensure that high-risk populations be given priority this coming fall in getting flu vaccinations.
The move by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) placing HHS on notice was sparked in part by Queens Congressmembers Joseph Crowley, Anthony Weiner and Nita Lowey. The three Democratic lawmakers joined with 24 other members of Congress and two Senators to request the GAO, an official arm of Congress, to study last fall’s situation.
At the peak of the flu season last year, only 28 million flu shots were available nationally, 42 million less than in 1999. Vaccinations are available on a first-come first-serve basis, so as doctors and hospitals competed to get the drug, prices for it skyrocketed and seniors and the very young were bypassed for the most part by medical providers.
Lowey, Weiner and Crowley don’t want that to happen again. The GAO report, in addition to calling on HHS Commissioner Tommy Thompson to ensure that high-risk populations be given priority, also recommends that he work with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure that supplies of the vaccine are available when needed.
Lowey called the GAO action a positive step and Weiner pointed out, "We cannot rely on the pharmaceutical companies to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens get the vaccines they need."
Crowley, a co-sponsor of the Flu Vaccine Availability Act of 2001, thanked Lowey and Weiner for their support. "Together, we were able to get the Government Accounting Office to clearly report the serious problems with getting critical vaccinations in the hands of those who truly need them," he said.
TRYING TO DETECT OSTEOPOROSIS EARLY: Congressmember Carolyn Maloney (D–Manhattan/Astoria) has reintroduced the Osteoporosis Early Detection and Prevention Act to give women a chance to deal with this disease and head off bone damage.
The disease, characterized by low bone mass or brittle bones, is especially dangerous for women in their pre-senior and senior years and for senior men also. It causes 300,000 new hip fractures each year, Maloney said. However, 71 percent of women don’t know about the perils of osteoporosis, leaving them at increased risk for fractures, she said.
"Prevention and early detection are critical in combating this disease," she declared. Her bill would require insurers to reimburse for bone mass measurement, the test which detects osteoporosis, so that the cost factor is removed.
Maloney, a strong advocate for women’s health benefits, has also introduced a bill requiring health insurance plans to cover cancer screenings for women.
UNION RETIREES PRESS FOR DRUG BENEFITS: The Alliance for Retired Americans, a coalition of retired union members, has been formed to lobby for enactment of a prescription drug coverage plan. The push was launched last week with the release of a new study which criticizes pharmaceutical companies for skyrocketing prescription drug costs.
Democratic Party efforts to get a drug benefits bill passed last year were thwarted by a $65 million campaign by the pharmaceutical industry. The industry also spent the most money of any special interest group in last year’s elections.
Facing this kind of opposition, the Alliance for Retired Americans plans a 20-state campaign. It claims to have 2.5 million union retirees as members, part of one of the strongest voting blocs.
"We’re not just going to surface during a campaign," Ed Coyle, the organization’s executive director, said. "We want to make sure these folks are involved all year long."
But the drug industry, organized as Citizens for Better Medicare, is operating in 15 states and in Washington with a strong lobbying effort.
Meanwhile, various proposals for senior drug benefits are pending in Congress where there’s a possibility some bipartisan plan could be enacted this year.