2011-01-05 / Seniors

Medicare’s Preventive Services Are About To Get Better

Dear Savvy Senior,

I’ve heard that Medicare will soon be offering seniors free health screenings. What can you tell me about this?

Searching Senior

Dear Searching:

It’s true. Starting Jan. 1, 2011, as part of the new healthcare reform law, everyone with original Medicare will have access to many important preventive health services, and most of them won’t cost you a cent. Here’s what you should know.

No-Cost Sharing

Over the years, Medicare has covered a number of preventive health screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies with varying levels of cost sharing that includes deductibles, coinsurance or copayments. Cost sharing for preventive services typically means that you, the beneficiary, pay 20 percent of the cost of the service, Medicare pays the other 80 percent after you’ve met your $155 Part B deductible.

But starting next month, Medicare beneficiaries will no longer have to pay any out-ofpocket costs for most preventive services, including annual wellness visits which are being added to the program to help keep you healthy. Here’s a breakdown of the different preventive services that Medicare will soon be offering that will be completely free.

Wellness Visits

In addition to the one-time Welcome to Medicare physical, which new beneficiaries can get but only within their first year of enrollment in Part B, free annual wellness visits with your physician will now be available. These visits will give your doctor the opportunity to develop and maintain an ongoing personalized prevention plan for improving your health. Each exam will include body and blood pressure measurements, a review of your medical history including any medications you’re taking and care you may be receiving from other healthcare providers, an assessment of your cognitive condition, and establish an appropriate screening schedule for the next five to 10 years.

Health Screenings

In addition to the wellness visits, here’s a list of the free health screenings and vaccinations Medicare will be offering its beneficiaries in 2011, along with the eligibility requirements you’ll need to meet to get them.

•Breast cancer screening: Yearly mammograms will be offered to women age 40 and older with Medicare.

•Colorectal cancer screening: This includes the flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy for all beneficiaries age 50 or older.

•Cervical cancer screening: Pap smear and pelvic exams are available every two years, or once a year for those at high risk.

•Prostate cancer screening. A digital rectal exam and PSA blood test is available to all male beneficiaries age 50 and older every year. You pay nothing for the PSA test, but you’ll have to pay 20 percent for the doctor’s visit.

•Cardiovascular screenings: Free blood test to check cholesterol, lipid and triglyceride levels every five years for all Medicare recipients.

•Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening: To check for bulging blood vessels, this test is available to men ages 65 to 75 who have ever smoked.

•Diabetes: Twice a year screening for those at risk.

•Medical nutrition therapy: Available to help people manage diabetes or kidney disease.

•Bone mass measurements: This osteoporosis test is available every two years to those at risk, or more often if medically necessary.

•HIV screening: Available to those who are at increased risk or who ask for the test.

•Vaccinations: An annual flu shot, a pneumococcal pneumonia and the hepatitis B vaccine are all free to all beneficiaries.

For more details on Medicare’s preventive services and their eligibility requirements, see the Medicare & You 2011 booklet that you received in the mail in October, or read it online at www.medicare.gov.

Medicare Advantage

If you have Medicare Advantage you need to know that the healthcare reform law did not require these plans to provide free preventive services. However, most Advantage plans already offer Medicare-covered preventive services without cost sharing. You’ll need to check your plan to find out your specific coverage.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to “The NBC Today Show” and author of The Savvy Senior books.

The Gazette does not endorse the contents of The Savvy Senior. Check with professionals about the contents of this column.

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