Walgreen faces penalty for NY flu shot charges

NEW YORK -- Walgreen Co. advertised free flu shots for members of the NYS Empire health plan but ended up sticking many of them with the bill.

Under a settlement announced Monday by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the Deerfield, Ill., company must stop advertising free flu shots for Empire members and refund payments for people who paid for the shots out of their own pocket. Walgreen runs the Walgreens drug store chain.

The Empire Plan insures more than 2.5 million New York state employees, retirees and their dependents.

Schneiderman's office said that an investigation determined that Walgreen misled more than 3,000 people insured by the health plan into thinking they were covered for flu shots administered at the pharmacy, when they were not.

The attorney general's office began investigating after it received a number of complaints from health plan members who said they were billed $30 for the cost of the "free" vaccine. Of the 3,000 billed, 1,647 consumers paid the full amount themselves, and will be reimbursed because of the settlement.

Walgreen will also pay roughly $15,000 in costs to New York.

The attorney general's office suggested that consumers be wary of pharmacy advertising for "free" flu shots or shots covered by "most plans" and urged them to check with their insurer or pharmacist to find out if the vaccine is covered by their health insurance.