How often have you tried to ignore an ache or pain by telling yourself, “Maybe if I do nothing, it’ll go away.” Sometimes, that works. But wishful thinking isn’t the best way to take care of yourself.
Medicare has put a new emphasis on preventive health care.
A few years ago, Medicare mostly concerned itself with paying for your treatment after you got sick. Now, it’s also focused on helping you stay healthy and avoid diseases and illnesses in the first place.
People with Medicare are entitled to a broad range of exams, lab tests and screenings to detect health problems early, when they’re most treatable or curable. Many now come at no out-of-pocket cost.
Many immunizations are also free.
To make sure you get started on the right foot, Medicare covers a “welcome to Medicare” visit with your physician during the first 12 months you’re enrolled in the Part B medical insurance program.
Your doctor will evaluate your health, discuss any preventive services you may need, like shots or screenings, and make referrals for more care if required. There’s no out-of-pocket cost.
You can make the most of your visit by coming prepared. That means bringing a complete list of your prescriptions, your family health history and your medical records, including immunizations.
Medicare also pays for an annual wellness visit with your primary care doctor. This isn’t the same as an annual physical exam, but it does provide the same opportunity to discuss your health.
Your doctor will develop a personalized prevention plan to keep you healthy. The visit also includes a review of your medications and routine measurements, like your height, weight, blood pressure and body mass index.
More than 25 million older Americans with traditional Medicare – including 1.7 million older Texans — received at least one preventive service at no cost to them last year.
Here’s a rundown of some of these services:
• Cardiovascular screenings check cholesterol and other blood fat levels. Medicare pays for the test once every five years.
• Blood sugar screenings can determine whether you have diabetes. Based on your health, you may be eligible for up to two screenings each year.
• Mammograms check for breast cancer. Medicare covers a screening every 12 months for women 40 and older and one baseline mammogram for women 35 to 39.
• Medicare typically pays for a flu shot once every flu season, a pneumonia vaccination once in a lifetime and, if you’re at medium to high risk, a hepatitis B shot.
• Colonoscopies can find precancerous growths early. Medicare covers the screenings once every 10 years or, if you’re at high risk, once every two years. You pay nothing for the test itself. If your physician removes a polyp, you may need to pay 20 percent of the Medicare-approved amount for the doctor’s services and a copayment for the outpatient setting.
• Prostate cancer screenings include a yearly PSA test and digital rectal exam for men 50 and older. The PSA test is free. You pay 20 percent of the cost for the rectal exam, after meeting your deductible.
• If you’re a smoker who hasn’t shown symptoms of a tobacco-related illness, you may qualify for eight free counseling sessions each year to help you quit.
• Likewise, if you’re obese with a body mass index of 30 or higher, you may be eligible for up to 22 free counseling sessions over a year to help you lose weight.
Keeping up-to-date with screenings and immunizations is important, so Medicare encourages you to visit mymedicare.gov and register. There, you can see a description of your covered preventive services, the last date you had a particular test and the next date you qualify for it again.
By eliminating the out-of-pocket costs for many screenings and tests, Medicare’s new emphasis on prevention not only can save you money, it can help you take control of your health.
It may even help save your life.
Bob Moos serves as the Southwest public affairs officer for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.