States will be allowed to use Medicaid funding to fight the spread of the Zika virus with mosquito repellent, contraception, family planning services and other preventive measures, according to a letter the CMS sent Wednesday to state officials.
A bulletin sent to state Medicaid directors and managed-care programs outlines a list of services available to prevent spread of the disease and reduce the risks associated with the development of microcephaly in children born by infected mothers.
Services covered by Medicaid include the cost of mosquito repellent prescribed by a healthcare professional, as well as any and all diagnostic services recommended by a physician to detect for signs of Zika or microcephaly.
States also have the option to cover the cost of family-planning counseling for men and women and provide various forms of contraception, including intrauterine devices and implants, to reduce the occurrence of sexually-transmitted infected cases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed a link between cases of Zika in pregnant women and an increase in birth defects in several countries. There have been more than 300 cases of Zika detected among pregnant women in the U.S. and its territories as of May 19, according to the CDC.
In cities such as Baltimore, concerns over the spread of the virus are high given the number of poor, dilapidated areas that can make for prime breeding grounds for the Aedes mosquito, the type associated as being carriers of the virus.
“Zika just like other diseases is a disease of poverty,” said Dr. Leana Wen, Batlimore city health commissioner. “It is areas like Baltimore city with concentrated areas and concentrated poverty that are going to be the most heavily affected.”
Wen praised the move by the CMS, but she also said local and state public health departments will need additional funding. She called on Congress to allocate the full $1.9 billion requested by the Obama administration in February to fight the Zika epidemic.
Thus far, lawmakers have proposed smaller funding packages. The Senate has proposed $1.1 billion in funding to combat Zika while the House last month approved a bill to allocated $622 million for the effort. CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said last week that the agency has had to borrow $50 million from other efforts to begin fighting Zika.
Wen said both proposals fall short of what's needed for a comprehensive emergency response. Baltimore has allocated $500,000 toward detection and mosquito abatement and has conducted outreach to parts of the city to educate residents on Zika prevention.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck effort,” Wen said. "We must prepare for this; the consequences are too great to ignore."