Does Medicare Cover the Rabies Vaccine?

In this article...
  • Get the facts about Medicare coverage for the rabies vaccine. Find out which portion of Medicare pays for vaccines and what costs you may be responsible for.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that only one to three cases of rabies in humans are reported in the United States annually. Vaccines for humans and domesticated animals introduced in the 1970s have virtually eliminated the potentially fatal disease. Still, every year, an estimated 30,000 to 60,000 Americans must receive urgent rabies shots to prevent the deadly disease. If you've possibly been exposed to rabies, Medicare is likely to cover much of the cost, so you can seek treatment with less worry about payment.

Does Medicare Cover the Rabies Vaccine?

Generally, Medicare will pay for a rabies vaccine if it is medically necessary. Your health care provider can advise you as to whether you need a rabies shot.

What Is the Rabies Vaccine?

The rabies vaccine is a treatment regimen given after exposure to a wild animal or an unknown domesticated animal. It typically includes one round of immune globulin and four shots given over a 14-day period.

Is the Rabies Vaccine Painful?

The original rabies vaccine had a reputation for being very painful because it involved use of a large needle and had to be given in the stomach. Today, rabies vaccines are much like any other vaccine. They are relatively painless and given in the arm.

How Much Does the Rabies Vaccine Cost?

A full rabies vaccine treatment regimen averages $3,800, according to the CDC. Prices typically range from $1,200 to $6,500, depending on where you live and receive treatment. Wound care and other first aid related to an animal bite or scratch will add additional costs.

When Do You Need a Rabies Vaccine?

The CDC recommends that you get a vaccine if you've been bitten or scratched by any type of wildlife or an unfamiliar domesticated animal like a cat or a dog. You may even need to seek medical attention if you've simply encountered certain types of animals, such as bats, which may bite without leaving a mark. If the animal is available for testing, this may be done before administration of the vaccine; however, medical professionals often err on the side of caution and recommend treatment regardless.

What Are the Symptoms of Rabies?

During the incubation period following exposure, you're unlikely to have any symptoms because the virus that causes rabies must reach the brain before there are any noticeable signs of the disease. As a result, people who have contracted the virus may not experience symptoms for weeks or months. Often, early rabies symptoms are like those of the flu and include fever, discomfort and headache. Later, itching and prickling of the skin may develop. During late stages, people may experience:

  • Mental symptoms like anxiety and agitation
  • Delirium and confusion
  • Hallucination
  • Fear of water
  • Sleep problems

Eventually, rabies usually results in death. Unfortunately, once symptoms of rabies appear, vaccines are typically ineffective, making it important to seek medical attention promptly after exposure.

When Does Medicare Part B Cover Vaccines?

Medicare Part B typically covers all flu, hepatitis B and pneumococcal vaccines. In addition, your Part B coverage usually pays for vaccines that are needed following an accident, including rabies and tetanus shots. For coverage to apply you usually must:

  • Be up to date on your monthly premiums
  • Satisfy any remaining deductible first
  • Receive the vaccine from a hospital or medical provider that participates in Medicare
  • Pay for coinsurance or copays as required by your plan

When Does Medicare Part D Cover Vaccines?

Medicare Part D usually pays for vaccines that are used to prevent illnesses and are not covered under Medicare Part B. In the case of rabies shots, your Medicare Part D plan is unlikely to have to cover the cost.

Will Medicare Advantage Plans Pay for the Rabies Vaccine?

Medicare Advantage plans are required to pay for anything that would ordinarily be covered by Original Medicare. Because Medicare Part B generally covers rabies vaccines, your Medicare Advantage Plan is likely to pay for them as well.

How Much Will I Have to Pay for the Rabies Vaccine With Medicare?

If you have Original Medicare, you'll likely be responsible for 20% of the cost of rabies vaccines. The remaining 80% is usually paid for by Medicare Part B. Medigap plans will often pay for some or all the amount that you're expected to pay out of pocket.

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