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Feds seek to boost seniors’ use of no-cost preventive health care

by Adrienne Verrilli, published

Hoping to encourage seniors to take advantage of a little-known, but enormous benefit available due to the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. health care reform), the Department of Health and Human Services announced this week the launch of a campaign that seeks to raise awareness of Medicare's offer of no-cost preventive care. As of January 1, 2011, seniors enrolled in Medicare and Medicare Advantage can receive annual wellness exams, vaccines and cancer screenings without paying a copay or having the cost of care charged against a deductible. 

The goal of the provision was to be better able to detect chronic diseases at an earlier stage and help seniors live happier and healthier lives. Early detection will also substantially reduce the overall health care costs from diseases that could have been prevented.

The Obama Administration’s move came just after a report from the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) found that no significant boost was seen among seniors accessing preventive care since the new benefit was added on January 1. In fact, CMS found that only one in six seniors enrolled in Medicare sought the free preventive care. As reported in Reuters, Ellen Griffith, a spokesperson for CMS, explained the need for the campaign:

     "For some services, utilization is slightly higher than in 2010; for some, it is about the same; and for a few services there is a slight drop. All of this supports the need for the multi-pronged public awareness campaign we launched today." 

Moreover, increasing seniors’ use of preventive care could save Medicare billions of dollars. In fact, CMS estimates that Medicare could save about two-thirds of the $2 trillion it currently spends on preventable long-term illnesses.

The campaign includes both radio and television ads in English and Spanish.  The no-cost services include, but are not limited to:

• Cardiovascular and diabetes screenings

• Annual Mammograms

• Pap tests and pelvic exams

• Prostate screenings

• Colorectal cancer screenings

• Bone mass measurements

• Flu shots

• Glaucoma tests

For more information on the list of no-cost benefits, go here

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