Legal News Line Oct. 19, 2012, 6:13pm

NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) - New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a settlement on Monday with the Walgreen Company to resolve allegations that the company misled consumers into thinking they were covered for Walgreens flu shots.

Walgreens allegedly misled more than 3,000 individuals insured by the NYS Empire Plan into thinking they were covered for flu shots through the pharmacy, when that was not the case. Under the terms of the agreement, Walgreens must stop advertising free flu shots for Empire Plan members and refund payments to consumers forced to pay for flu shots out of pocket.

"Vaccinations are a key public health strategy in preventing the spread of the flu in New York State and nationally," Schneiderman said. "By refunding customers, this settlement will ensure that Walgreens will not contribute to any consumer confusion that could negatively impact public vaccination efforts. While our office supports the increased availability of vaccinations through retail pharmacies, stores like Walgreens must be prepared to let consumers know whether their flu shots are covered by an insurance plan when administered at their stores."

Schneiderman's office received complaints through its Health Care Bureau Helpline that Walgreens incorrectly advertised and informed Empire Members that it participated with the health plan and could provide no out-of-pocket cost on flu shots. The flu shots were only covered when administered in the office of a physician.

Schneiderman alleged that during the 2010 and 2011 flu seasons, 3,000 Empire Plan members were denied the non-covered service and Walgreens billed the members for the $30 vaccine. The 1,647 consumers who paid the full amount out of their pockets will be reimbursed by the settlement.

Under the terms of the agreement, Walgreens agreed to stop billing Empire Plan members for flu vaccines administered between Aug. 15, 2010, and the present, as well as to ensure that retail pharmacy staff members accurately communicate coverage for flu vaccination to Empire Plan members, submit a report to Schneiderman's office documenting the Empire Plan members to whom refunds were paid and pay $15,000 in costs to the state.

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