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November 6, 2017

The $10.4B cost of the flu for Americans, explained

Daily Briefing

    The 2015-2016 flu season cost Americans an estimated $10.4 billion in direct costs for outpatient care and hospitalizations—making a flu shot a wise investment both fiscally and physically, according to wealth management experts.

    Q&A with Einstein Healthcare Network: How to achieve universal employee flu vaccination

    According to CDC, 43.3% of adults and 59% of those under 18 in the United States received a flu vaccine during the 2015-2016 flu season, staving off an estimated 5.1 million cases of the flu, 2.5 million medical visits, and 71,000 hospitalizations. Overall, however, the flu that season infected about 24.5 million people, resulting in 11 million medical visits, 308,000 hospitalizations, and 12,000 deaths.

    Breaking down the cost of the flu

    Catching the flu entails substantial direct and indirect costs, CNBC reports. For instance, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average daily cost of staying in a hospital is $2,271. And Laura Barry, director of wealth advisory at Bronfman Rothschild, pointed out that the flu "could cost … a lot more" for those at higher risk of developing serious complications as a result of the flu, such as young children and the elderly.

    Moreover, even if people aren't hospitalized because of the flu, they may incur significant costs if they miss work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans make an average of $26.55 per hour. As a result, if the average American misses a day of work and doesn't receive paid sick leave, he or she loses an estimated $212.40 in pre-tax income for each eight-hour day they miss. And according to Chris Chen, a certified financial planner and wealth strategist with Insight Financial Strategists, "The lower the income, the higher the impact of missing work will be on your finances if you're not getting paid for it."

    Even with paid sick leave, which averages about seven days in the United States, individuals could quickly use up all their allotted time with just the flu—and that's not accounting for other contagious illnesses that do not have a vaccine, such as the common cold or a stomach bug, CNBC reports.

    The financial benefit of a flu shot

    Conversely, getting a flu shot is relatively affordable and helps shield an individual from the associated costs of falling ill, according to CNBC. The cost of a vaccine varies, with Walgreens charging $31.99 for the shot applicable for most adults and minors and $59.99 for the shot recommended for people over age 65, but there are several ways to access no- or reduced-cost flu-shot options.

    For instance, the flu vaccine is fully covered for most people with health insurance, although plans may limit where an individual can access the vaccine. In general, the larger pharmacy chains, such as CVS and Walmart, generally accept most major types of insurance CNBC reports.

    Meanwhile, those without insurance who cannot afford a full price flu vaccine can check in with the local health department, which may off lower-cost or no-cost flu vaccines. Workplaces and universities also frequently offer no-cost options, according to CNBC.

    And while a flu shot isn't perfect protection, it is the "best possible protection," CNBC reports. As Chen put it, "Getting the flu shot should be a no-brainer. … The low or free cost of the shot is one of the great deals of everyday living, given what it can cost if you get the flu." He added, "You protect yourself with insurance for other risks. The flu shot is like insurance" (O'Brien, CNBC, 10/30; Spitzer, Becker's Hospital Review, 10/31).

    How to achieve universal employee flu vaccination

    In just a few years, Einstein Healthcare Network's employee flu vaccination rate skyrocketed from 30 percent to 98 percent. Learn how they did it.

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