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My $95 Flu Shot

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FluShotBillSteven 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 the bill you see here.  

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 has a staffer to make their appointments, has never had to wait hours for treatment, and never has to sort out their own bills.