Oct. 16--ALBANY -- The state attorney general's office reached a settlement with Walgreens over advertising that misled state workers into believing that flu shots at the pharmacy were covered by their insurance.
More than 3,000 people on the Empire Plan -- the insurance plan for 2.5 million state employees, retirees and their families -- received shots at Walgreens pharmacies across the state believing the cost would be paid by the insurer, according to the attorney general's news release. However, the Empire Plan pays for shots administered in a doctor's office, but not at pharmacies.
In the Capital Region, about 115 Empire Plan members got their flu shot at Walgreens stores in Albany, Colonie, Troy and Guilderland.
Walgreens has agreed to stop advertising free flu shots for Empire Plan members and reimburse members who were forced to pay for the shots out of their own pockets.
"By refunding customers, this settlement will ensure that Walgreens will not contribute to any consumer confusion that could negatively impact public vaccination efforts," Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. "While our office supports the increased availability of vaccinations through retail pharmacies, stores like Walgreens must be prepared to let consumers know whether their flu shots are covered by an insurance plan when administered at their stores."
The attorney general's office started an investigation into Walgreens after receiving complaints through its Health Care Bureau Helpline that the pharmacy incorrectly advertised and informed Empire Plan members that it participated with their health plan and could provide flu shots to them at no out-of-pocket cost.
The investigation found that 3,000 Empire Plan members were vaccinated at various Walgreens retail pharmacies during the 2010 and 2011 flu seasons. After the Empire Plan insurance claims were denied as a non-covered service, Walgreens billed the members for the $30 cost of the vaccine, according to the attorney general's office. Of the 3,000 billed, 1,647 consumers paid the full amount and will be reimbursed as a result of the settlement.
Walgreens also has agreed to cease billing Empire Plan members for flu shots given between Aug. 15, 2010 and now. It will also ensure that its pharmacy staff accurately communicates flu vaccination coverage information to plan members, and identify to the attorney general's office the Empire Plan members to whom refunds were paid. It will also pay cost to the state of $15,000.
The Attorney General provided the following tips:
Beware of retail pharmacy advertising that implies "free" flu shots or that flu shots are covered by "most plans."
Before you get a flu shot in a retail pharmacy, make sure that you know whether your insurance plan covers the cost.
Ask your pharmacist to confirm that your shot is covered. If they can't, let the store central headquarters know that you want the pharmacy to be able to tell you about whether the shot is covered under your plan before getting the shot.
For more, call the Attorney General's Health Care Bureau Helpline at 1-800-428-9071.
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