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When it comes to staying healthy, your Medicare plan may have some unexpected benefits

Color portrait of Mark Pabst By Mark Pabst

We often think of Medicare as coverage for when we get sick. But Medicare plans may also include benefits that can help to keep you healthy. It’s easy to overlook the many preventive services that Medicare plans offer. Knowing about these benefits can help keep your health on track. They’ll help you catch minor issues before they become serious.

Here are a few benefits you may get depending on what type of Medicare coverage you choose. Read closely. Some may surprise you.

 

“Welcome to Medicare” visit

You’re eligible for a one-time “Welcome to Medicare” visit with a doctor within your first 12 months of having Medicare Part B. You pay nothing for the visit. But be sure you tell the doctor’s office you are making your “Welcome to Medicare” appointment when you set up your visit. This visit will help establish your baseline health, which can help catch health problems early.   

So, what makes up your welcome visit? How can it help prevent future illness?

All “Welcome to Medicare” visits include:

  • A review of your medical and social history

This will include gathering information about your illnesses, hospital stays, operations, allergies and family medical history. Your health care professional will also ask about your current medicines and supplements, your diet and your use of alcohol and tobacco. 

  • Height, weight and blood pressure measurements
  • A calculation of your body mass index
  • A simple vision test
  • A review of your potential risk for depression
  • A talk about advanced directives
  • A written plan letting you know which screenings, shots and other preventive services you need
  • Certain screenings, flu and pneumococcal shots and referrals for other care, if needed

 

Knowing these things can help reduce your risk for health problems in the future. For example, your health history can determine your chances for chronic diseases that are more common as we age. Your doctor can give you advice on how to reduce your risk. 

And your physical exam can help predict your risk of a fall, which also is more common among older adults. You can talk with your doctor about how to improve your balance. 

You pay nothing for your welcome visit. However, you may have to pay coinsurance and a deductible may apply if your doctor or other health care provider performs additional tests or services during the same visit and the preventative benefits don't cover these additional tests or services.

You should ask your provider if the other services are covered as part of your welcome visit.

 

The preventive benefits in your annual wellness visits

Medicare also includes an annual wellness visit. This visit is free of charge if:

  • You’ve had Medicare Part B for longer than 12 months, and 
  • You haven’t had a “Welcome to Medicare” or annual wellness visit within the past 12 months

The wellness visit involves some of the same preventive screenings as the welcome visit. For instance, routine measurements like height, weight and blood pressure. The provider will also get an update of your medical history. 

  • Your annual wellness visit will also include:
  • An updated health risk assessment
  • A test for cognitive impairment
  • Education and counseling about other preventive services, including certain screenings and vaccines (such as a flu shot, shingles vaccine and other recommended preventive treatments)

The annual wellness visit is a good time to catch emerging health issues early. Then you and your doctor can set up a long-term treatment plan. 

 

Finding preventive care in Medicare Advantage benefits

Your “Welcome to Medicare” visit and annual wellness visits are covered by Original Medicare and all Medicare Advantage (MA) plans. But some MA plans offer even more preventive care benefits. 

For example, Original Medicare does not include routine vision, routine dental or routine hearing benefits. But most Medicare Advantage plans have coverage for eye, dental and hearing exams. They may also have benefits for things like eyeglasses, dental crowns and hearing aids. 

These exams may not seem like a key part of preventive care. But a routine check of your eyes, ears or teeth can say more about your health than you might think. 

For instance, during an eye exam, a trained medical professional can see early signs of everything from glaucoma and cataracts to diabetes and some types of cancer. That means a vision exam can lead to timely treatment for important medical conditions.

A visit to the dentist can have similar benefits. During a routine exam your dentist may find evidence of everything from leukemia to immune deficiency. A routine dental exam is a chance to catch these problems in between regular preventive visits with your doctor.

And you may not think a hearing aid can help your health but keeping your hearing sharp can help you avoid accidents. They’ll also help you communicate better with your doctors and pharmacists. 

 

Using virtual visits for preventive care 

Sometimes it’s difficult to get to a doctor’s office for care.  But MA plans have telehealth coverage for primary, urgent and mental health and some specialty care. Ask your doctors what virtual services they provide.

When you connect with your doctor via phone or video chat, they can ask about changes in your health.  A virtual visit may not allow for the same exams as an in-person visit, but it is still a key part of preventive care.

 

Key takeaways

Medicare coverage may include many benefits that can help you stay healthy. Taking advantage of all your preventive benefits can help you maintain your health as you age. And remember, while benefits like annual wellness visits are important, you can get such care in unexpected settings. For instance, a dental or eye doctor’s office. It can even happen virtually.

 

About the author

Mark Pabst has worked as a writer and researcher in the health care field for almost two decades. When not writing about health he tries to stay healthy through activities like hiking, climbing and paddling in the far flung corners of his native state of California. However, despite his best efforts he still has a few unhealthy habits he can’t shake, most notably a weakness for jelly donuts.

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