My $95 Flu Shot

Steven Brill has a must-read cover story in Time this week detailing how the federal government’s refusal to set rates for procedures, services and products means we all pay more for health care. I found this out first-hand last fall when my doctor tried to charge me $95 for a flu shot.

I was in for a routine physical and mentioned, “One of these days I need to go to CVS and get a flu shot.” She said, “Oh, I can give you one right now.” She grabbed a vaccine and gave me the shot – the whole process lasted about a minute. There was no discussion of price – I assumed it was either free or they’d charge me what the pharmacy does, about $25.

A month later I got this bill:

My health insurance provider doesn’t cover flu shots at all, so I called the doctor’s office and told them I had no intention of paying $95 for a flu shot. I said I’d pay the $33 for the shot, but not $62 for the privilege of getting it. It took another call to remind the office, but they took it off my bill.

Considering the flu costs¬†$10.4 billion in treatment alone¬†annually, never mind untold billions in lost productivity, we shouldn’t be charging people for flu shots at all – we should be giving them away. But we invest precious little in preventive care – there’s no money to be made in keeping people healthy.

It’s just one tiny window into the unnecessarily high costs of America’s health care system as our multi-payer system offers multiple chances for graft. A single-payer, Medicare-for-all style system would provide much more effective cost-control and oversight. Obamacare takes some steps in the right direction, but the Obama administration chose to cut the best deal they could with insurance companies rather than take them on.

The best health care in the world? Please. Whenever I hear that, I know the person talking can afford to have someone else make their appointments, have never had to wait hours for treatment, and can pay someone else sort out the bills.


6 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. I think we do have the best actual care in the world.

    Boston especially attracts people from all over to be treated. What we stink at is costs, and I agree vaccinations should be free.

    • We have it available...

      …but not accessible. Saying that America has the best care in the world based on its top providers is akin to saying that a city is the healthiest based on its professional athletes. It’s not even a question of cost, but access. I’d rather have everyone get access to great care than the privileged to superlative care.

      Maybe that would help our embarrassingly low life expectancies or disastrous infant mortality rates.

      sabutai   @   Sun 24 Feb 9:21 PM
    • We don't actually have the best care in the world at all

      the facts make that overwhelmingly clear in anyway we slice it.

      We may have the best surgeons and specialists in the world, but our follow-up care is atrocious. Hospitals practically throw people out the day of major surgery, and don’t do enough to make sure the people at home are giving themselves the home care they need to get better or to avoid infections. (And they shouldn’t have to be giving themselves that care to begin with — they’re not trained to do it, and you we shouldn’t be trusting that people who don’t have training and accountability for their jobs will get that treatment done.)

      What do we call a system that is great at surgery and terrible at the follow up? I’d say pretty dumb.

      Then there’s the vast number of doctors here who have ceased practicing medicine and resorted to just writing prescriptions or getting people to go through dangerous surgeries without trying less invasive alternatives first. That is by far the biggest amount of waste in our system, and far from making us healthier, it makes us sicker and leads to a lot of unnecessary complications.

      Our preventive care is also well behind — and not all because so many people don’t have health care, though that’s certainly a leading cause.

      As this diary made clear, a lot of preventive care isn’t covered by insurance companies. Yet, there’s also people who are covered for preventive care… but don’t have access to a large pool of doctors, forcing them to go to doctors with a patient pool that’s far too large.

      Since I moved off my father’s insurance a few years ago (he had a union — so it was great insurance and I truly got world-class care) and into the state’s connector system, I’ve had to switch to doctors that would have seen me in short order to doctors who make it painfully difficult to book appointments, even if I’m willing to take any appointment available and taking time off to do it.

      It should be noted that little of my coverage actually changed… in some ways, I have even more coverage than I did before…. if I could use it.

      But it’s like a tree falling in the woods with no one around to hear it. Does that coverage actually exist? Coverage that may include something like the flu shot while getting a check-up? I feel like it’s impossible to prove.

      RyansTake   @   Tue 26 Feb 6:10 PM
      • All the points you make...

        …can be traced back to problems relative to insurance. The skills and technology that exist in this country is my point and I stand by that.

  2. I never got around to blogging about the $3,000...

    …6 mile ambulance ride I was billed for…completely noneventful (thankfully)…but a complete scam.

  3. When the best interests and outcomes for patients

    and health care recipients are the primary goal instead of

    the Obama administration chose to cut the best deal they could with insurance companies rather than take them on.

    Then, maybe, it could be said we have the best health care in the world.

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