Did you enroll in Medicare recently, or will you be enrolling in the near future? If so, let me be the first to say, “Welcome!”
What should your first step be as a new Medicare beneficiary? I recommend that you take advantage of the “Welcome to Medicare” preventive care benefit.
During the first 12 months that you have Medicare Part B, you can get a “Welcome to Medicare” preventive visit with your doctor. This visit includes a review of your medical and social history related to your health. Your doctor will also offer education and counseling about preventive care services, including certain disease screenings, shots and referrals for other care, if needed.
When you make your appointment, let your doctor’s office know that you want to schedule your “Welcome to Medicare” visit. You don’t have to pay anything for this if your doctor or other qualified health care provider accepts Medicare payment rates.
If your doctor or other health care provider performs additional tests or services during the visit that are not covered under this preventive benefit, you may have to pay co-insurance, and the Part B deductible may apply.
Here’s what your doctor will do during your “Welcome to Medicare” visit:
• Record and evaluate your medical and family history, current health conditions and prescriptions.
• Check your blood pressure, vision, weight and height to get a baseline for your care.
• Make sure that you are up-to-date with preventive services such as cancer screenings and shots.
• Order further tests, depending on your general health and medical history.
Following the visit, your doctor will give you a plan or checklist with free screenings and preventive services that you need.
You should do some preparation before you sit down with your doctor. Pull together your medical records, including immunization records. Even if your current physician does the visit, gather as much medical information as you can to make sure nothing is overlooked.
Try to learn as much as you can about your family’s health history before your appointment. The information will help you and your doctor understand what screenings you should get and what to watch for in the future.
And, bring a list of any prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and supplements that you currently take; how often you take them and why.
If you’ve had Medicare Part B for longer than 12 months, you can get a yearly “Wellness” visit to develop or update a personalized plan to prevent disease or disability based on your current health and risk factors.
Medicare covers this visit once every 12 months.
As part of this visit, your doctor or other provider will ask you to fill out a questionnaire, called a “Health Risk Assessment.” Answering these questions can help you and your provider develop a personalized prevention plan to help you stay healthy and get the most out of your visit. The questions are based on years of medical research and advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
When you make your appointment, let your doctor’s office know that you would like to schedule your yearly “Wellness” visit.
Please note that your first “Wellness” visit cannot take place within 12 months of your enrollment in Part B or your “Welcome to Medicare” preventive visit. However, you need not have had a “Welcome to Medicare” preventive visit in order to qualify for a “Wellness” visit.
As with the “Welcome” visit, you pay nothing for the yearly “Wellness” visit if your doctor or other qualified health care provider accepts Medicare payment rates.
If your doctor or other health care provider performs additional tests or services during the same visit that are not covered under this preventive benefit, you may have to pay co-insurance, and the Part B deductible may apply.
Cate Kortzeborn is Medicare’s acting regional administrator for Hawai‘i, California, Nevada, Arizona and the Pacific Territories. You can always get answers to your Medicare questions by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).