Health care reform has brought changes in Medicare for seniors. One of the biggest is the establishment of annual wellness exams and other preventive services at no cost to the patient.
Here is a rundown of free health care benefits for seniors on Medicare. Remember, though, it’s still important to have a supplemental health insurance policy for Medicare.
From checking a senior’s height, weight and vital signs to identifying the need for further screening and diagnostic tests, the wellness exam covers the essentials of any medical check-up.
Those who are already enrolled in Medicare or who are familiar with the program might wonder how the free annual wellness exam is different from the initial enrollment exam, also known as the “Welcome to Medicare” exam.
According to Medicare.gov, the three things seniors should bring to their wellness exam are:
Starting in 2011, patients no longer will have to pay any out-of-pocket costs for several voluntary preventive services like screenings, measurements and vaccinations. The wellness exam should help identify which services are needed, although they are not part of the exam itself.
Some of the free preventive services available this year, according to Healthcare.gov, include:
Originally, end-of-life planning was listed as one of the free services available to Medicare recipients during their wellness exams. Yet, by 2011 references to end-of-life planning were dropped from Medicare regulations.
The idea of providing for voluntary end-of-life counseling first appeared in the original health care reform legislation, but was abandoned after opponents raised concerns about “death panels.” The concept of a government program encouraging end-of-life counseling and reimbursing doctors for it remains controversial.
Political controversies aside, it’s important that seniors understand exactly what end-of-life counseling means for them in terms of their care and family finances. Although doctors may not be reimbursed by Medicare for discussions about end-of-life planning and advance directives, nothing is stopping seniors from asking about them.
Doing so in advance often is better than waiting until the situation arises; in the midst of grief, it becomes increasingly difficult for patients and their loved ones to make tough decisions.
The most controversial part of end-of-life planning is the advance directive. According to Medicare.gov, advance directives are “legal documents that allow you to put in writing what kind of health care you would want if you were too ill to speak for yourself.”
Advance directives are voluntary and can be modified anytime — even with a verbal statement at the hospital. New York Online Access to Health (NOAH) provides a state-by-state list of advance directive guidelines.