A number of health care leaders and advocates want Texas to include mosquito repellent in pharmacy benefits for people on Medicaid and other government health programs.
It would be a way to help low-income people prevent exposure to Zika, a mosquito-borne illness that is known to cause brain defects in unborn children. But, the program could be hindered by the health care access problems in Texas.
Last week, Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner Charles Smith sent a letter to state officials asking the agency to consider paying for mosquito repellent for low-income women of childbearing age who need help paying for health care. Those women enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and family planning programs.
“For a family that is pinching pennies and cutting coupons, you would hate to see them wait a few weeks to buy insect repellent because they are worried about putting food on the table,” says Adriana Kohler with Texans Care for Children.
She says the state should consider approving mosquito repellent as a pharmacy benefit for this population, because they probably wouldn’t be able to buy it on their own. It’s a suggestion that was made by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services early last month. Kohler says it’s a smart way to help people without a disposable income protect themselves if Zika makes its way into the mosquito population here in the U.S.
"This is one of those cases where the state can spend a little money upfront to save a lot of money down the road and make a huge difference for Texas kids and families," Kohler said.
But, there’s a hitch.
The good news is Medicaid does cover the women most at risk for problems related to Zika – women who are currently pregnant. But, Jose Camacho of the Texas Association of Community Health Centers says, when it comes to other people, the health care safety net is not as helpful.
"I think it’s a patch on a much larger problem," he says.
The health programs here don’t reach everyone who could use help preventing Zika, Camacho says. For one, the state’s family planning program – which helps low income women who could get pregnant – is recovering after some severe budget cuts in the past few years. And the Medicaid program simply doesn’t cover enough people, because the state has opted not to expand it.
"The virus can be sexually transmitted," Camacho says. "The fact that we can’t cover men except in very limited circumstances is a problem."
But Camacho and Kohler both say this is a good idea and the state health department should approve it. State health Commissioner John Hellerstedt told reporters during a Zika conference last week in McAllen that his agency is still reviewing the matter.