Federal Public Health Officials Promote New Preventive Care Benefits in Medicare
Government and public health officials in a news conference on Monday encouraged Medicare beneficiaries to utilize new preventive care benefits that took effect Jan. 1 under the Medicare law, saying that preventive services are underused and can help save lives and money, the AP/South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports (Abrams, AP/South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 1/11). The benefits include a "Welcome to Medicare" physical exam for all people who enroll in the program after Jan. 1, along with 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 (California Healthline, 11/10/04).
A person is eligible for the physical exam for up to six months after enrolling in Medicare Part B. Beneficiaries must pay for 20% of the exam costs after the $110 Part B deductible is met (AP/South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 1/11). 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. Monthly Part B premiums on Jan. 1 increased from $66.60 to $78.20. 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 (California Healthline, 11/10/04).
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said he is also looking to congressional staff and not-for-profit associations to assist in the "new public education effort," according to CQ HealthBeat. The American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association have agreed to participate in efforts to increase awareness about the new benefits.
CMS Administrator Mark McClellan said that continual exposure to prevention messages is vital to changing beneficiaries' behavior. He indicated that he plans to make preventive messages a regular part of Medicare's communications with beneficiaries, CQ HealthBeat reports. McClellan also noted that the preventive care benefits are compatible with the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommendations (CQ HealthBeat, 1/10).
Thompson said, "Seniors who embrace prevention can literally add years to their lives" (AP/South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 1/11). He added, "It's this common sense medicine which is rooted in healthier choices and better preventative screenings."
McClellan said, "Twenty-first-century medicine is more and more about working together to prevent diseases and complications" (CongressDaily, 1/10). He added, "I am confident we are turning Medicare into a prevention-oriented program" (AP/South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 1/11).
CMS officials on Friday announced that the program until May 31 will pay 80% of Medicare beneficiaries' cost for up to two antiviral medications intended to treat the flu virus in an effort to "help Medicare beneficiaries unable to get a flu shot because of the current shortage," CQ HealthBeat reports. The pilot program is intended for beneficiaries in the Medicare Part B program who do not have prescription drug coverage. The four FDA-approved antiviral medications are amantadine, rimantidine, oseltamivir and zanamivir.
McClellan said, "[P]eople with Medicare who develop symptoms of flu or find that they may have been exposed to flu should contact their doctor as soon as possible" (CQ HealthBeat, 1/10).