October 27, 2006

Health Insurers Add Shingles Vaccine to Drug Coverage

By Daniel Lee, The Indianapolis Star

Oct. 27--Many people over 60 soon will have easier and more affordable access to a vaccine that helps prevent the painful and common condition known as shingles.

Health insurers are adding the vaccine, Zostavax, to their drug coverage after the immunization advisory committee with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the shot for older patients. Shingles, caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus, tends to strike people more commonly as they age.

Indianapolis-based WellPoint said Thursday it will begin providing coverage for Zostavax, made by pharmaceutical giant Merck, for those 60 and older whose benefit plans include vaccines. WellPoint operates Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the largest commercial insurer in Indiana.

Other insurers adding the vaccine include UnitedHealthcare, a national insurer based in Minnesota, and M-Plan, an Indianapolis health maintenance organization.

Most Anthem plans provide coverage for vaccines, typically with a co-pay, said Dr. Randy Howard, medical director for Anthem in Indiana.

Those enrolled in Medicare should check with their Part D prescription-drug benefit plans to see if the vaccine is covered, said Medicare spokesman Bob Herskovitz. Those eligible for Medicare who don't have the Part D drug benefit may have another chance to sign up for the coverage starting Nov. 15.

WellPoint, for instance, said it already provides coverage for Zostavax for seniors covered by its Part D programs.

Howard said some people who have shingles, which results in clusters of blisters, also develop severe nerve pain that may last for months or years.

A study showed that Zostavax, given in a single injection, reduced the occurrence of shingles by 64 percent in people ages 60 to 69, according to the FDA. The vaccine also has been shown to lessen its severity for those who do get shingles.


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