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COLUMN: Get a Flu Shot - Not the Flu

The following was submitted by David Sayen, Medicare’s regional administrator for Arizona, California, Hawaii, and Nevada.

Now is the time to protect yourself against the flu by getting your flu vaccine early, before flu season hits full force. Medicare covers the flu vaccination, along with many other preventive-health services.

People with Medicare can get the flu shot at no cost to them. There’s no coinsurance, copayment, or deductible.

Keep in mind that the flu shot helps prevent the flu; it doesn’t give you the flu. Getting the vaccine is the best way to avoid getting sick this flu season. Also, by protecting yourself, you’re protecting those you care about from getting the flu from you.

Who should get a flu shot? All adults, especially those 65 and older. People under 65 should get vaccinated if they have chronic illness, including heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, or End-Stage Renal Disease (permanent kidney failure).

Here are some tips to follow during flu season:

• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze – and throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners also work.

• Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way.

• Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

• Stay home if you’re sick. Wait at least 24 hours after you no longer have a fever (100° Fahrenheit or 37.8° Celsius) or signs of a fever without using a fever-reducing medicine.

In addition to flu shots, Medicare also covers vaccinations for pneumonia and hepatitis B (if you’re at medium to high risk for hepatitis B.)

And while we’re on the subject, don’t overlook other Medicare-covered preventive services such as cancer screenings (mammogram, colorectal, prostate) and cardiovascular screenings.

Each of these services is critical to your overall health and can help you prevent diseases or detect them early, when treatment works best. Check with your doctor or other healthcare provider to see if you might need other vaccines, in addition to the flu vaccine.

For more information, visit www.medicare.gov/share-the-health or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048. You can also visit www.flu.gov for specific information about the flu. More information is available at www.healthcare.gov.

(If you have or know of a child 6 months or older that qualifies for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the child may qualify for a flu vaccination at no cost. Check with your state Medicaid office.)

FRIENDLY REMINDER: Medicare’s annual open enrollment period ends Dec. 7. If you want to sign up for, or switch, a Medicare Advantage health plan or Medicare prescription drug plan, this is the time to do it.

Plans can change their costs and benefits from year to year, so be sure to review your coverage and make sure it still works for you. Medicare has these resources to help you:

• Visit www.medicare.gov/find-a-plan to compare your current coverage with all of the options that are available in your area, and enroll in a new plan if you decide to make a change.

• Call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to find out more about your coverage options. TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048.

• Review the ‘Medicare & You 2013’ handbook. It is mailed to people with Medicare in September.

• Get free, personalized help from a counselor from your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). Visit www.medicare.gov/contacts or call 1-800-MEDICARE to get the phone number for your state. Counseling is available over the phone or in person.

David Sayen is Medicare’s regional administrator for Arizona, California, Hawaii, and Nevada. You can always get answers to your Medicare questions by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). 

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