Still Crazy After All These Years: Preventive
Services Open Door to Healthy Aging for Seniors
Ron Pollack, Executive Director, Families USA
Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) makes getting
preventive services easier and easier to afford, yet, less than 50% of
seniors are up-to-date
Jan. 17, 2014 - A fun-loving, active couple I know,
both of whom are older than 85, recently performed in an hour-long
musical production. And they were pretty darn good! They are clearly in
love and enjoying life. What are they doing right? They told me that
they “take care of themselves.” Nothing magical, and no miracle
treatments have extended their golden years.
Both these friends eat healthily, exercise, and see
a doctor regularly to catch problems early. Both have had colon cancer,
which was detected early and treated successfully. Both take medication
for their high blood pressure. One of them is managing diabetes. Both go
to the doctor once a year - even if they feel great - to get “some basic
The way they take care of themselves mirrors a key
public health strategy: Getting appropriate screenings and regular
check-ups, which can prevent disease or detect disease early when
treatment is more effective. These services include screenings for
chronic conditions, immunizations, and counseling about personal
behaviors like eating habits.
Despite the fact that preventive services can save
lives, only 25 percent of adults aged 50 to 64 are up-to-date on getting
preventive services, and less than 50 percent of adults aged 65 years
and older are up-to-date on these services.
Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act makes getting
preventive services easier - and easier to afford. Private insurance and
Medicare must cover all preventive services that are recommended by the
United States Preventive Services Task Force for free. These services
·Screenings for high blood pressure and cholesterol;
·Screenings for colon, breast, and prostate cancer
·Bone mass testing for osteoporosis
·Screening for diabetes
And Medicare now provides a free “Welcome to
Medicare Exam.” This is an initial physical exam you can get within the
first year of signing up for Medicare Part B (which covers doctor and
other outpatient care). This exam looks at your current health status,
identifies risk factors, reviews your medications, and sets reasonable
goals for improving your health. This visit also looks for weight,
hearing, and vision issues, which are critical for older patients.
In addition, Medicare provides an annual, free
“Wellness Exam,” which includes many of the same tests as the Welcome to
Medicare Exam. During these exams, you and your doctor have the
opportunity to work together over the long term to achieve health and
We all want to have a long, healthy life. What are
the “secrets” of living to an advanced age? Research gives us some clues
that reinforce the common sense of the friends I mentioned earlier. A
large-scale study found that five key factors make a tremendous
difference in longevity and quality of life:
Maintaining a healthy weight
Keeping blood pressure under control
Staying physically active
An older person who scores well on these key
factors has a 10 times greater chance of reaching 90 and being
healthier. The regular wellness visits and screening and preventive
services that are now available and affordable under the Affordable Care
Act are key to putting you on the path to a long, healthy life.
Of course, if you do get sick, Medicare covers your
doctor and hospital bills the same as it always has. Make sure you
understand what Medicare covers and what it doesn’t and how Medicare
works with any other coverage you have (like a Medigap policy, coverage
from a former employer, or Medicaid). If you have questions, call
1-800-MEDICARE. You can ask for the name and number of your local State
Health Insurance Assistance Program, which offers free insurance
counseling to everyone with Medicare.
A couple of important notes about costs: While you
do not have to pay for many preventive services, you may have to pay for
a doctor visit if you receive additional services while you are there.
Also, if you need to have more frequent screenings, you may have to pay
for those screenings. And if you receive your preventive services in an
ambulatory surgical center or a hospital’s outpatient department rather
than at your doctor’s office, you may have to pay for those services.
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