CDC Study: Treating Children’s Flu Illness Costly
A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the journal Vaccine has put a dollar figure on visits to doctor’s offices and emergency rooms for the treatment of flu-stricken children and looked at the amount of time parents have to miss work and care for little ones while they recover. The study examined the experience of 282 children under the age of 5 in 3 U.S. cities, and found that parents had medical expenses ranging from under $300 to about $4,000 and missed between 11 and 73 hours of work, depending on whether their child was able to recover at home or was hospitalized.
According to the study’s lead author, Dr. Ismael Ortega-Sanchez, “Of course you can’t put a price on worry and sleepless nights or the suffering of little ones but we wanted to be able to quantify – as much as possible – the economic burden of influenza on parents of sick children.”
The study concluded that an annual preventive flu vaccine is well worth its relatively low price tag compared to the costs associated with treating flu illness. The cost of a flu shot can range from $0-$40 depending on the child’s medical plan.
Costs Related to Flu Treatment
The Vaccine study estimated medical costs, which can include the cost of diagnostic testing, medications, room fees and supplies and physician services. Unsurprisingly, medical costs were the highest for parents of hospitalized children and those treated in emergency rooms, with parents of children hospitalized with flu spending a whopping average of $3,990 in medical costs, while those with children treated in emergency rooms spent around $730.
Though other studies have looked at medical costs associated with flu illness in children, CDC’s study is the first to also consider influenza-related indirect costs (e.g., time lost from work to care for children, take them to medical visits, and time spent in hospitals for parents of hospitalized children) and out-of-pocket expenses (e.g., co-payments, over-the-counter medication and travel costs).
Parents of hospitalized children reported an average of 73 hours of work time lost, while parents of children who were seen in emergency departments and outpatient settings reported 19 and 7 work hours lost, respectively. Those hours away from work translated into lost dollars. Caregivers of hospitalized patients, emergency room patients and outpatients lost an average of $1,456, $383 and $222 respectively, mainly due to time spent away from work.
But for most parents, flu-related expenses don’t end when they leave the doctor’s office. On average, families also spent $178 (in-patients), $125 (emergency room patients) and $52 (outpatients) in out-of-pocket expenses.
To gain this data, researchers used the New Vaccine Surveillance Network (NVSN), a CDC-funded data surveillance network, to identify children <5 years old with lab-confirmed influenza who were (1) hospitalized due to flu illness, (2) treated in emergency departments, or (3) treated in outpatient settings during the 2003-2004 influenza season. Researchers examined patients’ medical records and accounting databases, and interviewed parents and caregivers to assess influenza treatment-related expenses.
Influenza in Children
Influenza is a serious illness, and can be particularly burdensome on children, who are most likely to become infected with this contagious disease. Additionally, children also are among the people who are at high risk of serious flu complications, including children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old. For emergency room patients, costs were higher for children younger than 2 ($935) compared with children between 2 and 5 years old ($502).
Interestingly, the study also notes that there were no significant differences in the medical costs of hospitalized children who had conditions that put them at higher risk for flu complications—meaning parents of children who don’t have flu risk factors can still expect to pay similar costs of parents of high-risk children.
CDC’s new study improves research in estimated costs associated with treating influenza in children. Prior studies, which did not include indirect and out-of-pocket costs along with medical costs, underestimate the economic impact of treating flu illness in children. This study also underlies the importance that preventive methods, like getting an annual flu vaccine and practicing good health habits, can help parents save money and hours of leave.
Source: Ortega-Sanchez, I. R., Molinari, N.-A. M., Fairbrother, G., et al. Indirect, out-of-pocket and medical costs from influenza-related illness in young children. Vaccine(2012).