As open enrollment season approaches, so too does flu season. And while flu activity generally peaks in January or February, seasonal flu activity can begin as early as October. For the 2012-2013 season, manufacturers have projected they will produce between 146 million and 149 million doses of the flu vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends that everyone aged six months and older get an annual flu shot.
A recent study published by Walgreens, which looked at the cost benefits of various vaccination strategies for employers, found that in a typical U.S. population, an influenza immunization program will be cost beneficial for employers when more than 37% of individuals receive the vaccine in a non-traditional setting, such as a pharmacy, as opposed to a physician’s office.
“We’re looking at a changing health care landscape where immunizations are being provided not just at physician’s offices but also in other settings, primarily community pharmacies,” says Michael Taitel, senior director, clinical outcomes and analytics with Walgreens. “We sought to build a model that can help employers understand the value of providing immunizations in alternate settings.”
In a scenario where 50% of people are vaccinated in non-traditional settings, estimated net savings were $6 per vaccinated employee or dependent. Immunization programs targeted at high-risk individuals and administered in non-traditional settings, meanwhile, produced $83 in savings per vaccinated member.
“The higher the risk of your population, the greater the value the employer will get from the vaccination,” says Taitel. “If you have employers with older than average workers they will see greater savings.”
Employers can plug their own data into the Walgreens model and tailor it to fit their employee population.
“Most employers do offer flu shots through their benefits plans. Many are offering it through the medical side of the plan, as opposed to through the pharmacy benefit,” says Taitel. “If left on their own, employees may go to their doctor and go to the most expensive place to get it – their copay may be the same – but it’s much more expensive for the health plan if the employee goes the more traditional route.”
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