Double Whammy: Flu Season During a Pandemic

Flu shot FSA

Flu season can be miserable even in a normal year. During a pandemic, it’s even scarier, especially if you are in a vulnerable population. This year it is more important than ever to have the latest information on available vaccinations, corresponding costs and how to pay for them.

Many health insurance plans cover routine vaccinations such as flu shots with little or no cost-sharing. However, if you do have to pay for it, flu shots are a qualified expense for your Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or Health Savings Account (HSA). It’s a smart move to include this vaccination as part of your balance spend-down as you near the end of your plan year.

Learn more about who should get a flu shot, vaccine cost and availability, and how your FSA or HSA can help.

Don’t think you need a flu shot?

Consider this: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly 22,000 Americans died of flu or flu complications during the 2019-2020 flu season alone.

For 2020-2021, the numbers were lower, but this is attributed to COVID mitigation measures. Staying home, wearing masks, social distancing and school closures for COVID purposes all significantly reduced the spread of flu viruses as well as COVID-19.

What’s new for the 2021-2022 flu season

According to the CDC, several things will be different for the upcoming flu season:

  • All flu vaccines will be quadrivalent; in other words, they will protect against four different flu viruses
  • The flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccination or booster can be given at the same time
  • The Flucelvax Quadrivalent formulation is now licensed only for use with those aged 2 years and up (previously available for age 6 months and up)

Who should get a flu shot?

The CDC recommends that the majority of people six months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season. The following are considered to be at high risk for developing flu-related complications:

  • Children younger than 5, especially those younger than 2
  • Adults aged 65 and older
  • Women who are pregnant
  • Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • Persons in racial and ethnic minority groups

People with the following medical conditions also have a high risk of complications from flu:

  • Asthma
  • Blood disorders
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disorders
  • Liver disorders
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions 
  • Extreme obesity
  • Weakened immune systems due to disease or medication
  • Younger than age 19 and receiving long-term aspirin therapy

That said, there are different ways to administer flu protection and different mitigation efforts. For example, those who are pregnant or have certain chronic health conditions should not get some types of flu vaccines. That’s why it is so important to consult with your family doctor on the right option for you.

Further, even though many people continue to wear masks and practice social distancing, the CDC recommends that persons at high risk for flu complications still get the flu shot. Even if you are not concerned about getting the flu yourself, you may be protecting those in your life who are more susceptible to flu and flu complications from getting a serious case.

Cost and availability

Flu shots are usually available from your primary care physician. There are other options as well, like pharmacies, urgent care facilities, and pharmacy departments of major retailers like Costco and Walmart. For assistance in finding a location, check out this flu shot locator. Due to supply chain issues, you may want to call ahead to ensure that doses are currently available.

For 2021, flu shots start at around $19.99 at Costco. In places like Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and other major retailers, the price can range up to $70 if you don’t have healthcare insurance.

Most healthcare insurance plans cover at least part of flu vaccination cost. If you do have to pay part of it, your FSA or HSA lets you do it with pre-tax funds. By using an account-linked benefits debit card, you can pay for it directly from your account funds, so you won’t have to file a claim and wait for reimbursement.

If you can’t afford the costs of a flu shot, there are options. Many employers and schools offer free vaccination appointments. Some local health departments and healthcare providers set up free flu shot clinics, especially in low-income areas.

When to get your flu shot

Getting a flu shot in September or October is a good goal, especially for more vulnerable populations, as it can take up to two weeks before the vaccination starts to protect against the virus(es). Even November or December is not too late though. The CDC reports that U.S. flu activity typically peaks in February, and significant activity can continue all the way into May.

More good reasons to get vaccinated

In a normal year, many people get sick from the flu, and a significant number will die from it. That’s concern enough, but flu effects take a severe toll on the U.S economy as well. Influenza costs the U.S. around $10.4 billion every year in hospitalizations and outpatient care for adults alone. Sick employees, and those who have to stay home to care for sick loved ones, cost employers millions each year in lost productivity. And employees who don’t receive paid sick leave lose millions in wages.

For your health and that of those around you, consider getting a flu shot this season. It can cost little to nothing to get your entire family vaccinated and keep them healthy. 

For 40 years, DataPath has been a pivotal force in the employee benefits, financial services, and insurance industries. The company’s flagship DataPath Summit platform offers an integrated solution for managing CDH, HSA, Well-Being, COBRA, and Billing. Through its partnership with Accelergent Growth Solutions, DataPath also offers expert BPO services, automation, outsourced customer service, and award-winning marketing services.

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