Medicare Now Offering Free Screening, Counseling for Depression, Alcohol Misuse
New services added to a growing list of preventive services by Medicare to help seniors avoid costly care
Oct. 17, 2011 - Medicare will now cover screening for depression, as well as, alcohol misuse screening and behavioral
counseling, according to a news release by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on Friday. These new coverage policies add to the
existing portfolio of covered preventive services, most of which are now available to people with Medicare at no additional cost.
“Preventive services bring relief to Medicare beneficiaries for whom preventive care means early identification of
disease and greater opportunity for treatment and recovery,” said CMS Administrator Donald M. Berwick, MD.
“It’s just as important for our elderly beneficiaries to enjoy access to preventive services as it is for any American.”
Alcohol misuse puts individuals at risk for ill health as misuse is linked to diseases such as cancer, liver disease and
cardiac disease, as well as mental and emotional problems. For society at large, alcohol-related problems include economic losses from illness
and injury, and disruption of family and social relationships.
Annual alcohol misuse screening by primary care providers, such as a beneficiary’s family practice physician, internal
medicine physician, or nurse practitioner, in settings such as physicians’ offices are covered under CMS’ new policies. The benefit also
includes four behavioral counseling sessions per year furnished by the primary care provider, if beneficiaries screen positive for alcohol
Depression is a medical disorder characterized by feeling sad, diminished interest in pleasurable activities, feelings of
guilt, decreased ability to concentrate and other symptoms experienced nearly every day. Depression may also include thoughts of suicide.
Among people 65 years and older one in six suffers from depression.
Annual screening for depression for Medicare beneficiaries is now covered in primary care settings that have staff
resources to follow up with appropriate treatment and referrals. The purpose of this screening is to assure accurate diagnosis, effective
treatment and follow-up.
“These new coverage policies address important issues related to mental health and prevention of substance abuse,” said
Patrick Conway, MD, CMS chief medical officer and director of the agency’s Office of Clinical Standards and Quality. “We at CMS continue to
carefully and systematically review the best available medical evidence to identify those preventive services that can keep Medicare
beneficiaries as healthy as possible for as long as possible.”
The coverage decision on alcohol misuse screening is online (click
here) at and the decision on depression screening is online (click
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