Protect your wellness and your wallet with these tips
How would you best describe your relationship with medical care?
a. I loathe—and actively avoid—going to the doctor.
b. I head to the doctor every now and then, but really only when there’s a problem.
c. My health is important to me, so I try to take an active role in getting the care I need.
If you answered “c” (which is likely, given that you chose to click on this article), congratulations: You’re what health care professionals consider a proactive medical consumer. And that also means you’re likely to receive the best, and most cost-effective, treatment from your health care team.
If you answered either “a” or “b,” don’t fret—being proactive about your health doesn’t require mounds of research or a complete lifestyle overhaul. In fact, it really only requires one simple action: scheduling an annual wellness visit with your primary care physician.
In a recent study of nearly 9,000 Medicare beneficiaries, those who went for an annual wellness visit saved almost 6 percent on their total health care costs over the course of 11 months., these patients were more likely to get preventive tests and treatments designed to catch illnesses early on.
Read on to learn more about annual wellness exams—and how to work with your health care team to create a plan designed to preserve your health.
4 Key Preventive Services Typically Covered by Medicare
As of 2019, Medicare Part B covers about 30 preventive services that can detect problems early or help you avoid getting sick in the first place. These services include annual wellness visits and many of the screenings or subsequent appointments that might follow as a result. These include immunizations, health screenings and lab tests, and certain medicines, as well as health-related counseling and educational programs.
It’s also important to note that people who are new to Medicare Part B are entitled to a “Welcome to Medicare” preventive visit within the first year. After that, a wellness visit is covered once every 12 months.
Here are some common things that Medicare often covers:
Common tests and screenings. Many of these are probably familiar to you, such as bone density tests, glaucoma tests, and screenings for common conditions like cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Shots/immunizations. In addition to the flu shot, the time may be right for you to be vaccinated against hepatitis B or pneumonia.
Specialized tests. Tests like the abdominal aortic aneurysm screening are only covered for at-risk groups. In this case, that means people with a family history of the condition or men ages 65 to 75 with a personal history of smoking.
Mental and behavioral health and therapy. Medicare covers mental-health screenings for depression, as well as counseling. This includes programs intended to help people quit smoking or drinking, as well as those for weight loss, diabetes management, and disease-specific nutrition plans.
More details are available online in the official Medicare & You booklet.
How to Prepare for Your Wellness Visit
When making an appointment for an upcoming wellness visit, you may be able to cut down on the wait time by asking for the first time slot of the day. Also, try to arrive 15 minutes early, in case there is additional paperwork to do, and bring along an activity—like a crossword puzzle, book, or knitting supplies—to occupy you if the wait is longer than expected.
Prior to your appointment, be sure to bring these key pieces of information along to discuss with your doctor.
Your up-to-date health history. Your doctor will likely ask you to outline your health history in a new patient form, preferably before you come in. If you are not sure of the answers, it’s important not to guess. Having the wrong details can set you up for screenings you don’t really need (say, if you think your dad had diabetes but he did not). Even if a point seems insignificant or embarrassing, don’t hold anything back. To ensure that your doctor outlines the right treatment plan, they need to know everything. Keep in mind that he or she has “heard it all before,” so there’s no need to be shy or embarrassed.
Particular symptoms or concerns. Bring up any health problems you’ve been having, including “old” ones, new ones, and worsening ones, even if your doctor doesn’t ask. For example, if you are having trouble sleeping or find yourself more fatigued than usual, your doctor should know. Oftentimes these concerns can be connected to, or a symptom of, larger health concerns.
Questions and notes. In the days and weeks before your visit, keep a running list of any health questions that come up. On the day before your appointment, rewrite the list, and put the highest-priority items at the top. That way, you’ll be more likely to get through them before the appointment ends. If needed, you can make a follow-up appointment to cover anything that was missed.
Current medications you’re taking. Make a complete list of all of your current medications, nutritional supplements, and over-the-counter medications, including timing and dosages. Better yet (and probably easier), bring the actual bottles in a gym bag, since they will have all of the information about dosage and timing right on the labels.
Don’t Forget the Follow-Up
During your appointment, be sure to keep a detailed list of all of the things your doctor recommends, including any follow-up appointments or check-ins. It can be helpful to have a trusted family member or friend take notes for you, so you can focus on talking, not writing.
Your preventive care plan should include information on:
- Medications and supplements (especially if changes are recommended)
- Upcoming exams, tests, and screenings (what to get and when)
- Referrals (as needed, based on your health care plan)
- Lifestyle changes (dietary changes, exercise plan, smoking cessation program, etc.)
Finally, if you feel that anything in your preventive care plan will be difficult for you to carry out, tell the doctor right away. Many people struggle with concerns related to finances and transportation related to health care. Or perhaps you are not sure that you will be able to secure the medications or foods your doctor has suggested. Fortunately, there are plenty of services available to help break down the barriers that can prevent you from starting your preventive care plan. By opening your mind—and your mouth—you can help your doctor know what you need to succeed.