Not Covered for the Flu Shot? Not so fast.

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Did you get your flu shot? Now may be the best time, as we head into peak of both the holiday and flu seasons. Retail pharmacies are a convenient place to get vaccinated, but a new study shows that Walgreens isn’t always giving accurate information to customers seeking the shot.

The investigation, conducted by Change to Win Retail Initiatives (CtW), found that Walgreens employees gave inaccurate information about flu shot coverage in 48 percent of store visits across New York City and Los Angeles. Walgreens representatives refused to check whether an insurance plan was covered in 40 percent of those instances—claiming to know if the flu shot was covered or not— and were wrong more than half the time.


CtW researchers found an out-of-pocket average rate of $32.00 per shot at Walgreens, and drugstores could be profiting from this confusion as insurance reimbursements for the vaccinations are reported to be lower. This isn’t the first time Walgreens has been accused of misinforming customers about their flu shot coverage. Last year, the company entered into a settlement with NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman after sticking thousands of NY state employees with a bill for the shot after wrongly advertising it was free with their insurance.

Flu shots are vital for public health. On average, there are more than 200,000 flu-related hospitalizations each year—along with thousands of deaths associated with the illness—and cost is one common reason people give for not being vaccinated.

Get your flu shot, but don’t pay more than you should for your vaccination. Here are some tips to help ensure you get the right price:

1. Check with your insurance company. Many insurance plans cover the flu shot. Call ahead and make sure flu shots are covered under your plan at the drugstore you plan to visit. If you experience problems, ask the pharmacy staff to call your insurer, using the number on your card.

2. If your plan has separate medical benefit and pharmacy benefit cards, make sure pharmacy staff checks both. If pharmacy staff refuses, you may have to visit another store or clinic.

3. Ask for a refund. If you believe you’ve wrongly paid out of pocket, contact your insurance company or the drugstore to ask for a refund.

4. Look for community health centers. Every state and major city in the United States has community-based clinics, some of which offer preventive care services such as vaccinations.

5. Check out and local media outlets for information about the vaccine and where to get it.

6. We repeat, get your flu shot ASAP. Even though it’s your best protection against the flu, only 42 percent of Americans received the shot last year according to the Centers for Disease Control.