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April 1996

Variation in Patient Charges for Vaccines and Well-Child Care

Author Affiliations

From the Division of Community Pediatrics (Dr Freed), Department of Family Medicine (Dr Pathman), and Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research (Drs Freed, Konrad, and Pathman and Ms Clark), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1996;150(4):421-426. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1996.02170290087014

Background:  Several state and federal programs have attempted to boost immunization rates by reducing or eliminating provider vaccine costs. The relation between patient vaccine and well-child visit charges and vaccine financing systems is unknown.

Objectives:  To determine patient charges for vaccines and well-child visits in three states with varying vaccine financing systems and to examine the effects of a short-term reduction in provider vaccine costs.

Design:  Cross-sectional survey study of a random sample of physicians in three states.

Participants:  A total of 2797 pediatricians and family physicians in North Carolina, Texas, and Massachusetts were surveyed.

Main Outcome Measures:  Current charges to patients for diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine (DTP), measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine (Hib), and combined DTP-Hib vaccine and for well-child visits; changes in charges over the previous 8 months.

Results:  Response rate was 62%. Vaccine and well-child visit charges were comparable in North Carolina and Texas. Massachusetts' average charges for well-child visits were higher than in the other states, although vaccine charges were lower; with the use of combined DTP-Hib vaccine, total simulated charges for vaccines and well-child care during the first 6 months of life averaged only 10% less in Massachusetts vs Texas and North Carolina. Neither regional variation in cost of living nor Medicaid reimbursement rates explained this difference.

Conclusions:  The average cost and composition of charges for well-child care in Massachusetts, a state with universal purchase of vaccines, compared with the other states, warrant further study to explore whether physicians shift costs to other preventive services to compensate for lower allowable immunization charges. If such cost shifting occurs, current federal immunization initiatives that lower or eliminate provider cost may not provide increased access to preventive services.(Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1996;150:421-426)