What Medicare Can Do For You

Take this simple test to find out if you really know enough about the preventive and diagnostic services that Medicare covers. Medicare is changing rapidly and dramatically to better serve its millions of beneficiaries. Make certain you know all that it can do for you.

TRUE or FALSE?

  1. Medicare will pay for many types of cancer screening.
  2. Medicare will pay for diabetes monitors.
  3. Medicare will pay for Hepatitis B vaccinations for those at risk.
  4. Medicare will pay for blood tests that measure your risk for heart disease and strokes.
  5. Medicare will pay for bone density tests.

How do you think you did on the quiz? If you answered "true" to all five questions, you're an expert on Medicare.
The Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 is best known for creating the prescription drug program for seniors, but coverage for medicines was not the only new benefit introduced. Medicare also added three more services to the growing number of diagnostic tests and procedures it will pay for. When put together, the full list of preventive care services provides Medicare patients with screening for many of the most serious health problems affecting older adults. When these benefits are used, they can usually help doctors identify and deal with conditions before they become critical. Thus they are very important tools in maintaining wellness and independence.

Screening for Cardiovascular Disease
One of the most important of the new tools provided by the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 is screening for cardiovascular illness, the leading cause of death in the United States. Medicare will now pay for every beneficiary to have blood tests which measure cholesterol, lipids and triglycerides. The American Heart Association has said, "Simply testing seniors for high cholesterol levels will significantly reduce the number of cardiovascular disease and stroke deaths each year and will greatly reduce the number of individuals disabled by these conditions."

Diabetes Testing
Diabetes affects 12.2 million Americans over the age of 60. A serious and life-threatening illness in its own right, diabetes can also cause major complications including heart disease, stroke and blindness. Prior to the passage of Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, Medicare would only pay for diabetes testing if a patient showed symptoms. Now, Medicare covers diabetes screening for any beneficiary deemed to be at risk. This means that pre-diabetes, an often undiagnosed medical condition, is more likely to be identified.

The American Diabetes Association says that the early detection of pre-diabetes can actually help delay or prevent onset of diabetes itself, thus alleviating suffering and even saving lives. Medicare already pays for the monitors, test strips and lancets that are needed daily by diabetes patients. For those patients who are at risk of complications from their illness, Medicare will also pay for training to help them better monitor and care for themselves.

Physical Exams
Getting a physical examination is one of the most important preventive care steps anyone can take. Unfortunately, far too many people don't actually do it -- because of time, cost, the mistaken idea that they do not need one, or any number of other reasons. Medicare pays for a physical for all new beneficiaries. This exam will provide new Medicare patients with the opportunity to meet with a doctor who can review their medical history and conduct a full assessment of their health.

The Medicare beneficiary chooses both the doctor and the time of the exam, though it must be completed during the first six months of enrollment in Medicare Part B. Healthcare providers have long recommended that Medicare provide this coverage because of the enormous potential it has for early detection and treatment of serious illness.

Bone Mass Testing
A fractured hip is not only a debilitating injury, it can actually be life-threatening due to complications such as blood clots, pneumonia and infection. Recovery is also difficult as a high percentage of older victims, most of whom are women, are not able to return to their pre-injury level of activity. Osteoporosis or weakening of the bones is a major cause of hip fracture. By measuring bone density, doctors can assess a patient's vulnerability for any type of fracture and, if necessary, prescribe treatments, including medicines, to address the problem. Medicare covers bone mass testing every two years or more often if frequent testing is medically necessary.

Immunizations and Glaucoma Screening
Every Medicare beneficiary also has coverage for immunizations against flu and pneumonia. For those at risk, Medicare provides payment for Hepatitis B vaccine. Medicare also pays for glaucoma screening for those whose medical history makes them vulnerable to this leading cause of blindness among the elderly.

Today's Medicare
These new services - blood tests for cardiovascular illness, diabetes screening and the "Welcome to Medicare" physical will immediately begin to help Medicare beneficiaries live healthier and longer lives. But it is important to remember that they are only a part of the comprehensive preventive care services that Medicare provides. For example, Medicare pays for several types of cancer screenings, including: annual mammograms (for women over 40) and testing for prostate, colorectal, vaginal and cervical cancer is also covered.

It is important to remember that this list of preventative services has grown over the years in response to medical advances and the recommendations of healthcare professionals. Information about each of these services and all Medicare benefits can be found on the Medicare Web site or by calling Medicare at 1-800-633-4227.