A bill to require insurers to cover vaccinations for a sexually transmitted virus known to cause cervical cancer has cleared another hurdle at the legislature. Action by a Senate committee keeps a bill alive that will mandate coverage for vaccines against H.P.V., the human papilloma virus.

Senator Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City, says the vaccine is effective in preventing cervical cancer and insurance policies that don’t already cover it should. “They ought to get on board and do this,” Bolkcom says. “I think we are about prevention. Ninety-nine percent of these can be prevented with this vaccine. It’s the right thing to do.”

A three-shot regimen costs up to $600.  “It’s really believed that this law is necessary to ensure that all women have access to this important vaccine,” Bolkcom says.

But Senator David Hartsuch, a Republican of Bettendorf who’s a doctor, says the benefit doesn’t justify the cost. “There’s approximately two million women every year who would have to be vaccinated assuming that we were trying to eradicate this,” Hartsuch says. “…(It) would roughly be about a billion dollars a year we would have to spend nationwide.” Hartsuch says breast cancer screening and treatment would be a better use of those dollars. Some of Iowa’s major insurers already cover the vaccine.

The bill has already passed the House and now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

In 2006, the federal government approved the use of “Gardasil,” the first vaccine to guard against four types of cervical cancer and 90 percent of genital warts cases. It has generated controversy, however, because the vaccine is most effective when administered to females between the ages of 13 and 26 — before they engage in sexual activity. Critics argue it will encourage those young women to have sex after getting the shots. Lawmakers in at least 17 states have enacted laws which either mandate, fund or provide some level of public education about the vaccine.