HARTFORD, CT — Following the first two flu-associated deaths in Connecticut, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Department of Public Health Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell got their flu shots Friday.
The deaths involved two residents from Litchfield and Fairfield counties, both of whom were more than 65 years old.
Between August 25 and November 9 in Connecticut, 47 people have been hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza. During the 2018-2019 flu season DPH reported 3,506 persons hospitalized with influenza-associated illness, and a total of 88 influenza-associated deaths in the state.
Blumenthal stressed at a press conference at the Charter Oak Health Center that the flu is preventable.
“It is costless if you have insurance,” Blumenthal said. “If you get the flu it will be the most severe flu season ever for you.”
Blumenthal has introduced legislation to research a universal flu vaccine. The legislation calls for the federal government to invest $1 billion over 10 years on a universal flu vaccine.
“Every year the flu vaccine has to be reinvented based on the types of flu that will be rampant that year,” Blumenthal said.
The composition of U.S. flu vaccines is reviewed annually and updated as needed to match circulating flu viruses, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“I remember getting a flu shot years ago and I got deathly ill,” Coleman-Mitchell said. “I remember vividly thinking this happened hours after I got the flu shot.”
Coleman-Mitchell said she’s talked to physicians about her experience, but the facts remains “the best thing we can do is still get the vaccine.”
She said as a person who had that experience it’s important for the public to see her get the vaccine this year.
“Let’s be clear,” U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said following Coleman-Mitchell’s remarks. “The flu vaccine does not make you sick.”
He said if you get sick after the flu vaccine “it is not because you got the flu vaccine.”
Murphy said “There are two things you can do to prevent the flu: You can get the shot and you can make sure you have insurance.”
Access Health CT is encouraging people to shop and compare insurance plans for 2020, but an estimated 80% will auto-renew their 2019 plans.
However, that could come at a cost, especially for those who don’t receive any subsidies.
The 50% of consumers who will see a decrease in their premiums are those who receive a federal subsidy, according to Wakely, an actuarial consulting firm whose data was included in the presentation at the Access Health CT board meeting last month. Premiums are what consumers pay on a monthly basis that gives them access to insurance.
Based solely on premiums, the report by Wakely found a majority of consumers who are not eligible for federal subsidies and are in gold plans will see an average $116-per-month increase. Those in silver plans will see an average $66-per-month increase, and those in bronze plans will see a $59-per-month increase. A small number of those consumers who don’t receive subsidies will receive a slight reduction in rates depending on what plan they are on.
Blumenthal said the costs are “rising astronomically” and we should work to bring those costs down. He said what’s driving these increases are the cost of healthcare and “we need to do more to bring it down.”
Murphy said the problem in Connecticut is the fact that there are only two insurance carriers competing for business on the exchange.
“The reason Dick and I both support adding a Medicare product to every single exchange is because one of the things that will drive prices down is having more competition,” Murphy said. “States that have more competition have more pressure on insurers to lower costs.”
An estimated 3,947 have enrolled through Access Health CT since Nov. 1.
Individuals have until Dec. 15 to sign up for insurance through the exchange.
“It is imperative that people go to Access Health CT and shop for a plan before Dec. 15,” Murphy said. “Plans are affordable.”
The average subsidy for a Connecticut resident is around $500 per month, according to Murphy.