Expanded Medicare Coverage of Preventive Services Starts Jan. 1, Thompson Says
Medicare will begin covering initial physical examinations and more types of health screenings beginning Jan. 1, 2005, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson announced Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reports. The new benefits, part of the Medicare law passed last year, include a "Welcome to Medicare" physical exam for all people who enroll in the program after Jan. 1, and screenings for diabetes, hearing and vision, cholesterol and blood pressure. Medicare already covers screenings for breast and colon cancers and osteoporosis, as well as annual flu and pneumonia vaccines.
CMS estimates that the expanded coverage of preventive services will cost between $20 million and $60 million in the first year. The new benefits will be funded in part through Medicare Part B premiums, which cover physician and other outpatient services. Monthly Part B premiums will increase from $66.60 to $78.20 on Jan. 1 (Rainey, Los Angeles Times, 11/10). HHS plans to work with CDC and other agencies to educate Medicare beneficiaries and their families about preventive care and the new benefits. CMS recently mailed an updated handbook to beneficiaries describing the program's prevention-oriented focus and how to use the new services.
CMS Administrator Mark McClellan said, "Too many seniors do not use the services that make it possible to find and treat illnesses before they lead to more serious problems, as well as avoidable increases in health care costs. The new law gives us the tools to close this 'prevention gap' for seniors, and we're going to do all we can to use these new opportunities to keep seniors healthy." McClellan added that the new benefits could save thousands of lives and reduce spending by billions of dollars by preventing health-related complications from heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other diseases.
Thompson said, "We are committed to healthy aging and to closing the prevention gap so America's seniors can learn new ways to prevent illness and if they do get sick, to treat problems early" (HHS release, 11/9). Thompson added that 99% of Medicare spending goes toward treating diseases, with only 1% of such spending going toward prevention (Los Angeles Times, 11/10).