by Chris Regal, AHIP Senior Health Research Associate
October 4, 2018
Highmark Inc., the Pittsburgh-based health insurance provider to nearly 4.6 million members, promotes cancer prevention with the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. It’s educating providers, young patients, and their parents about the proven benefits and safety of the vaccine.
HPV is a very common virus—nearly 80 million people currently have it and about 14 million more people, including teens, become infected with the virus each year. People get HPV from another person during sexual contact. Though most people never develop symptoms, some HPV infections last for years and can cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, and vulva in women, of the penis in men, and of the anus and back of the throat in both men and women. The HPV vaccine can help prevent about 93 percent of the cancers caused by the virus each year.
The vaccine is typically given to adolescents aged 11 or 12 years old and is recommended for women through age 26 and for men through age 21; but it’s not part of routine preventive care. Despite public health efforts, some parents do not want their children to be vaccinated, questioning the safety and necessity of the vaccine, especially for kids of such a young age who they do not believe would be sexually active. While the idea is to protect teens against the disease over the long-term (whether they become sexually active tomorrow or 10+ years after vaccination), some still resist vaccinating for a sexually-transmitted virus.
Highmark has established a two-pronged approach to get more boys and girls vaccinated and prevent cancer.
Highmark connects with providers, encouraging them to make the vaccine routine and ensure kids of appropriate age receive the HPV vaccine along with Tdap and meningococcal vaccines. Providers are encouraged to share the proven cancer-preventing benefits of the vaccine for both males and females, and emphasize clinical evidence to respond to concerns.
Highmark distributes to providers a list of members turning 13 years old in the next six months and a letter to parents to reinforce the importance of vaccines along with a template of mailing labels with addresses. The insurance provider has also created an internal performance quality metric tied to HPV vaccine delivery and provides financial incentives for providers who maintain high clinical quality, as measured by targeted indicators.
Highmark communicates to members—both patients and parents—to dispel myths about the HPV vaccine. It sends letters to kids ages 9 to 12 who have started but not yet completed the series of HPV vaccinations (a series of two or three shots, depending on age) to encourage them to see their doctors to complete the series. Letters are also sent to members turning 11 years old, highlighting the importance of vaccines including HPV. Highmark also sends information to parents highlighting vaccine safety and the HPV vaccine’s importance in cancer prevention.
Though there is still room for improvement in the uptake of the HPV vaccine, the trends are moving in the right direction. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 65 percent of teens have received one or more doses of the vaccine and 49 percent of teens are up-to-date on their HPV vaccines. This is an increase of 5 percent between 2016 and 2017.
To build on this progress, Highmark and other health insurance providers will continue their leadership efforts to raise awareness about the HPV vaccine among young people and their parents and why it’s important.