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 WASHINGTON, Sept. 30 /PRNewswire/ -- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Donna E. Shalala said today that older Americans can avoid a life-threatening flu this year by using a new Medicare benefit that pays for flu shots.
 At the same time, she said, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending earlier-than-normal inoculations for flu this year. The CDC recommendation is included in an article to be published by the agency Friday.
 "The elderly are especially vulnerable to potentially severe effects of influenza," Shalala said at a press conference today. "We are launching a comprehensive campaign urging all senior citizens to receive shots before the flu season hits in late fall. For most seniors, vaccinations will be free, since Medicare now covers flu shots."
 Shalala was joined at the press conference by a coalition of organizations participating in the flu shot outreach campaign. These include the National Coalition for Adult Immunization, National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, the American Association of Retired Persons, the American Lung Association and the American Medical Association.
 The Public Health Service reports that more than 10,000 Americans die in many flu seasons, and some years the number of deaths reaches 45,000.
 Because influenza viruses change from year to year, the vaccine is updated every year. This year, vaccine is available to combat a strain of Type A Beijing flu that is expected to affect the United States this winter.
 CDC normally recommends receiving flu shots between mid-October and mid-November. However, in Friday's edition of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the agency will recommend that the optimum time for inoculations for the elderly is now through the end of October. Earlier inoculation is recommended because of the possibility of an early flu season.
 The new coverage of annual flu shots is available for elderly and disabled persons enrolled in Medicare Part B, which covers medical services.
 Bruce C. Vladeck, administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration, said Medicare reimburses for the flu vaccinations when furnished by physicians or clinics that accept Medicare assignment. Beneficiaries will not be charged for the Part B deductible or for the normal 20 percent coinsurance payments for medical services.
 Physicians who accept assignment accept Medicare-approved amounts as full payment for their services. Physicians who do not accept assignment can impose charges in excess of the Medicare rates for the flu shots.
 Philip R. Lee, M.D., HHS assistant secretary for health and head of the PHS, urged Medicare beneficiaries who have never had pneumonia shots to get them also when they receive their flu shots.
 The pneumonia shot is usually needed only once in a lifetime and can be obtained free or at reduced cost by Medicare beneficiaries. The payment policy is the same as that for the flu shots.
 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta works with the World Health Organization annually to spot the emergence of the next year's strain of flu. CDC and the Food and Drug Administration cooperate with private manufacturers in developing a vaccine that will protect against the virus. About 50 million doses have been manufactured and are available throughout the United States this year.
 A consumer leaflet, "Medicare Pays for Flu Shots," is available from the Medicare Issues Hotline, toll-free, 800-638-6833.
 -0- 9/30/93
 /CONTACT: Duke Sybor of the Health Care Financing Administration, 202-690-8056, or Bill Grigg of the Public Health Service, 202-690-6867/

CO: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Centers for Disease
 Control and Prevention ST: District of Columbia IN: MTC SU: EXE

DC-MH -- DC020 -- 7343 09/30/93 13:48 EDT
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Sep 30, 1993

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