Many Americans were surprised when their flu shots did not cost them anything, when they had insurance covers from employers or even independently insured.
The CVS Pharmacy in Richmond had an almost empty supply of flu shots because of the brisk business "People are often surprised to find out that the cost is covered," May Ung said, noting that the advertised price is $31.99 per shot. "Insurance has historically been hit or miss, but now people seem to be covered (for the shot) more often."
It took many months for the controversy and angst which resulted from the problems that beset The Affordable Care Act to settle down and with people on the verge of losing their old policies - some tangible perks were on the way.
There has been an outbreak of the deadly swine flu across the country so this feels like a positive experience to millions of average Americans.
The law, signed by President Barack Obama in March 2010, now mandates that most health plans cover a set of preventive services, including shots and screening tests, with no co-payment -- regardless of whether someone has met his or her yearly deductible.
"It's a great example of how having insurance can make a lot of difference and may reduce a barrier for people," said Dr. Jeffrey Rideout, senior medical adviser at Covered California, the state's health insurance exchange.
There is some confusion that the health care law's free preventive services are available only to people who bought their plans on the exchange.
Not true, said Roy Kennedy, a Covered California spokesman.
"These are part of the essential benefits that are now included in all plans," he said.
Only plans which were taken about 4 years back, before the Health law came into force are exempt from these benefits. These are known commonly as the grandfathered plans.
"As long as your employer plan isn't grandfathered," Cox said, "then you should be able to get a free flu shot.''
Cox added that it's a good idea to check with your doctor to make sure he or she correctly bills the flu-shot visit as a preventive service. Otherwise, consumers might get a bill for the service.
Those without health insurance can still get flu shots at pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS, spokesmen for both chains said. But it will cost them about $32.
County public health departments also offer low-cost or free flu shots. Bay Area residents should check with their county health department for more information about prices and clinic locations.
Under the new health law more than just free flu shots are offered. At least a dozen other free preventive health services -- from diabetes to HIV screening, programs for weight loss and smoking cessation -- are available to most American adults.
Women can get free annual check-ups, free breast and cervical cancer screenings and free contraception.
"People should take advantage of the preventive and wellness services," said Covered California's Kennedy. "It makes a lot of sense."
Hannah Punitha (IRDA Licence Number: 2710062)
Tracy Seipel, January 2014