It's almost time for back-to-school vaccines. And there are some ways to cut costs or have them covered altogether.
Under the Affordable Care Act, many individuals or families who enroll in a new group or individual health plan on or after Sept. 23, 2010, can get free vaccines. That means no co-payment, deductible or co-insurance, as long as you use an in-network provider. And some health plans that existed before that date are subject to the rule as well, according to HealthCare.gov, the website of the Department of Health & Human Services.
The vaccines must be those recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). They include vaccines for hepatitis B; measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (MMRV); and influenza, or flu.
"The majority of large vaccines [that people with new insurance] get are covered by insurers with no cost sharing," says Susan Pisano, spokeswoman for America's Health Insurance Plans, a national trade association representing the health-insurance industry. "It's required now."
But if you had health insurance prior to Sept. 23, 2010, and your plan is exempt from the rule (ask your provider if you're not sure), you'll likely have to pay for vaccines. There are some ways to avoid paying additional costs, however. For instance, try to schedule any vaccines at the same time as an office visit so you don't have a separate co-pay. And schedule all vaccines for one appointment if possible, even if they are due at different times throughout the year.
In addition, with some insurers and medical providers, you may be able to schedule vaccine-only visits that don't require a co-pay. Among the vaccines that may qualify: the flu shot and second or third doses of the HPV vaccine, which protects against a virus that could lead to cervical cancer, says Lance Rodewald, director of the immunizations services division at the CDC. Check with your insurer and medical provider for specifics.
Separately, if you have an existing high-deductible health plan, vaccinations can get costly since the actual cost of the shots will be covered by you until you meet the deductible, says Herschel Lessin, a pediatrician in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
In some cases, it may be cheaper to go to a community clinic. Most offer the flu shot and sometimes other vaccines. At the Berkeley, Calif., Public Health Clinic, for instance, tetanus and measles vaccines each cost $17, according to the clinic. Hepatitis A and B vaccines are free, but you must pay for an office visit, from $39 to $91 depending on the patient, if you don't qualify for California's Health Access program, which helps people find affordable health care based on age, income and other requirements.