If you are 65 or older, you have a higher risk of experiencing serious complications from the flu. To protect yourself from this virus and avoid spreading it to others, it's important to get a flu shot every year.
However, when you're using Medicare as your primary health insurance provider, does Medicare cover flu shots?
Does Medicare Cover Flu Shots?
Medicare will cover one flu shot per flu season, as long as you get the shot from a health care provider or pharmacy that accepts Medicare payments. If you have Medicare Advantage, your plan may require that you get your shot from a doctor who is part of its network; contact your doctor's office, pharmacy or Medicare Advantage plan to make sure your flu shot will be covered at the place you go to receive it.
The flu shot benefit is part of Medicare Part B coverage. There is no copay, so your flu shot is completely free.
In essence, Medicare will cover flu shots — and it does so at no cost. Beyond the health benefits, these are two more good reasons not to put off making your appointment.
Why Get the Flu Shot?
Research shows vaccination helps prevent flu. Data analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that, during the 2019-2020 flu season, vaccinations prevented an estimated 7.5 million flu cases.
Even if you still get the flu after vaccination, a flu shot lowers your risk of becoming seriously ill. CDC research also found that flu shots prevented 3.7 million influenza-related medical visits, 105,000 flu-related hospitalizations and 6,300 flu-related deaths. Additionally, the CDC cites an independent 2021 study, which found that adults who contracted the flu after receiving their flu vaccines had a 26% lower risk of being admitted to an intensive care unit and a 31% lower risk of death compared with those who didn't get the shot. Flu shots also lower the risk associated with heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, helping keep people with these conditions from becoming sicker if they get the flu, according to the CDC.
Along with the benefits a flu shot provides for your own health, it also helps protect others around you — including those especially vulnerable to the worst effects of flu, such as young grandchildren, pregnant women and people with chronic illnesses.
When Should You Get the Flu Shot?
It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the protective antibodies to develop, making the best time to get a flu shot between September and October, before the virus typically starts to spread.
However, even if you miss this window of time, the CDC still recommends that you still get a flu shot. You'll still have a few months before the usual peak of flu season in February, and significant activity may stretch into May. Time has no bearing on your coverage — you can still get a flu vaccine free of cost in November or later.
Although it may seem like a good idea to get a jump on flu season by getting vaccinated in late summer, it's not recommended, especially if you are 65 or older. Your vaccine protection may decrease over time, so unless you simply wouldn't be able to get a shot in the fall or later, it's best to wait until September. That way, those antibodies are more likely to still protect you when peak flu season arrives.
A flu shot can save your life and help keep you and your loved ones out of the hospital. With either original Medicare or Medicare Advantage, you have access to a free flu shot from a variety of providers. Start planning now to get vaccinated for this flu season so you can enjoy time with family and friends in good health.