Shingles Shot: Pricey! But Worth It…

So on Sunday I went over to the Safeway after the churchfest. Needed to pick up some meat for Cassie, since we’re going to run out of chicken before I can make another big grocery run.

Didn’t expect to find any bargains, it being a weekend, but was pleased to discover $1.79 chuck steaks, very fatty, just the ticket for a dog. Plus I get the bones to make the next pot of stock, which I’m about to do with the carcass of the chicken she and I have finished off. While I’m standing there, the PA system delivers a pitch for the shingles shots Safeway has been peddling for the past while.

Hm.

I’ve been eying the shingles shot for quite a while. Last time I asked, they said Medicare Part D wouldn’t cover enough of the $250 fare to matter—I would’ve had to pay around $200. But my doc at the Mayo has been urging me to get one…only not at the Mayo, where they charge over $300 for a shot.

Well, I thought, as long as I’m having to pony up $1,200 for a new crown, I might as well use up some more of the tax refund that bill is decimating. So I sidled up to the pharmacist’s counter and inquired.

It took the better part of an hour for the pharmacist’s sidekick to navigate Wellcare’s and Walgreen’s bureaucracies, which initially denied me. But finally, after I stood and stood and stood and stood, he extracted the deal: a $138 bill to me to cover the $250 immunization.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? Charge as much as an entire month’s grocery budget for a shot targeted at people living on limited, fixed incomes. Great humanitarian impulse there, Big Pharma!

I haven’t wanted to be forced to pay such a ridiculous charge for a few grams of immune serum. However… Shingles is not something you want to enjoy. It is extremely painful. If it gets into your eyes, it can actually blind you.

If you’ve ever had chicken-pox, you’re at risk of getting shingles, which is really just a relapse of the same virus, which takes up permanent residence in your system. The older you get, the higher your chances of getting it. And the older you are, the harder it’s likely to hit you. It can lead to encephalitis, facial paralysis, and hearing or balance problems. It is extremely painful, and the pain, called postherpetic neuralgia, can last for many months, even years. I knew a woman who came down with shingles in her late 70s. Two years later, she was still in so much agony she was incapacitated. This had been a very active woman—she and her husband owned a bird sanctuary covering several acres in the Chiricahua mountains, not a pursuit for the idle.

Every year about a million Americans develop shingles; of them, 20% are affected by postherpetic neuralgia. After a bout with the virus, forty percent of patients over 60 develop this excruciating chronic pain.

So, even though I suspect the price is a huge rip, no one wants to go through what shingles victims commonly experience—described by one sufferer as “as a very bad burn being stuck with needles and spikes.” So I went ahead and coughed up the $138. I’m never going to be any more able to afford it.

So far, no untoward side effects. We’re told the vaccine is only about 50% effective. You still can get shingles, but supposedly the infection will be relatively mild. However, it reduces the risk of the horrific postherpetic neuralgia by about 67%. And that’s big.

What the heck. After the pharmacist poked me, she handed me a 10% off coupon for my next purchase in the store!

So, to the two big packages of meat, which the butcher had converted to hamburger and soup bones while I was hanging around the pharmacy, I promptly added an eight-pack of foamy-delicious canned Guinness draught! And threw in a big $10 canister of roasted cashews.

It was worth it.

:-)

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Mike May 19, 2011 at 6:35 am

Honestly, I haven’t given shingles a second thought in about 40 years until last week when I was informed an old friend of mine has gotten them and now is infected in his eye. thanks for the great advice, I think it’s time for me to do the same.

Donna Freedman May 19, 2011 at 1:01 pm

My mom had shingles. It was very painful indeed. She was a stoic woman but she told me that the condition hurt like hell.

frugalscholar May 19, 2011 at 2:09 pm

My doctor said that shots are $200, but covered for over 60. Maybe one should try to get the shots before Medicare–while still covered through work.

funny May 19, 2011 at 2:43 pm

@ frugalscholar: While I was still at the Great Desert University, I asked; the answer was no, our PPO did NOT cover it. The full fare at Safeway is about $230; at the Mayo, where WonderQuack practices, it’s $350. At that time I asked a pharmacist if Medicare Part D covered the shingles shot, and he said it did. So I decided to wait until Medicare kicked in.

Well, $138 is still better than $250. You have to examine each of the scores of Part D policies available in your state to figure out what is covered and what is not. Each insurer covers different products in different degrees.

Normally what one does is look up one’s long-term prescriptions (by 65, most people are gulping something every day of their lives and expect to have to take it until they die) in each affordable Part D insurer’s “formulary.” This tells you what meds they cover and whether you’re forced to buy the generic versions or whether they’ll let you have a brand name, and if so what proportion they’ll cover.

Because I take no pills, prescription or otherwise, on a regular basis, I chose the cheapest Part D plan I could get. It may be that you get what you pay for. However, with Medicare that rule does not always hold true. The only way you can tell is by hassling (majorly) with the verbose and confusing information the insurers disseminate or by taking your chances and finding out as you go.

SimplyForties May 19, 2011 at 7:01 pm

Both my parents got shingles. My dad got it on his head. Terrible! Definitely worth the money even if it only reduces the chance of getting shingles.

Deedee May 20, 2011 at 12:32 pm

I had a friend in her 30′s who got Shingles. And she cried and cried with the pain. And had recently (within the past two years) given birth with no medication. And said she’d go through childbirth any day rather than suffer the pain from Shingles.

I say good for you. Money well spent, beer, nuts and all!

funny May 20, 2011 at 12:42 pm

@ Deedee: That’s terrible! Poor thing.

They say that people who get it under the age of about 55 do so because of a weakened immune system; and in fact, the reason older people are susceptible is that our immune systems grow feeble along with the rest of our parts.

It that was the case, she probably didn’t feel well to start with. So a painful ailment on top of whatever else she was dealing with must have been devastating.

LOL! I gave birth to my son with no meds, too…only because I thought childbirth was supposed to hurt more than one’s period. It doesn’t. So I didn’t realize the little guy was about to pop out.

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