This morning I read in Kaiser Health News that only 1 percent of Medicare beneficiaries living in Hawaii have taken advantage of the free annual wellness visit they are entitled to, courtesy of healthcare reform. I immediately sent a tweet via Twitter to my friend Claire Santos, RN, who is a nurse and health communicator and educator in Hawaii. Claire, I tweeted, you now have a mission to increase awareness of preventive services covered by Medicare in your home state.
According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, only 890 beneficiaries in the Aloha State have had a free wellness exam this year, which is the lowest percent of any state. Even worse, the state with the highest percentage of seniors who have taken advantage of the wellness visit is Rhode Island — coming in at just 8 percent.
Nationally, only about 3.6 percent of beneficiaries, or 1.1 million seniors, have had a wellness visit since January. Jim Firman, CEO of the National Council on Aging (NCOA), a nonprofit advocacy group, theorizes that many seniors simply do not know what additional Medicare benefits are provided in the Affordable Care Act. Speaking at a White House event highlighting benefits to seniors in the health law, Firman said of the annual wellness visit, “This is a really good benefit, but you have to use it to maximize the opportunity.”
What exactly is the annual Medicare wellness visit?
It’s important to understand that the wellness visit is not a physical exam. It’s actually just a great opportunity to talk to your doctor and develop or update a personalized prevention plan based on your current health and risk factors. Anyone who has had Medicare Part B for longer than 12 months is eligible for this annual visit, which includes:
• A review of medical and family history
• A list of current providers and prescriptions
• Height, weight, blood pressure, and other routine measurements
• A screening schedule for appropriate preventive services
• A list of risk factors and treatment options for you
Other preventive services covered by Medicare
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, numerous preventive services are now provided free under Medicare. These services include various exams, shots, lab tests, and screenings, plus counseling and education to help you take care of your own health. This year, only 43 percent of Medicare beneficiaries, or about 14 million people, have taken advantage of the free care this year. CMS put out a great guide to Medicare’s preventive services, which I highly recommend you check out if you are among those eligible who have not yet taken advantage of these services – especially if you are among the 99 percent of beneficiaries in Hawaii who have not yet had your wellness visit.
By the way, if you’re wondering what “ola lāhui” means: According to online sources, it is defined as, “So that the people will live and thrive.” The term is often used with health care services or professionals — like my friend Claire — to show intent to improve the health and being of the Hawaiian people.