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Medicare now covers nearly two dozen preventative screenings

Access to screenings decreases health care costs to seniors

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Here in San Diego, one in 10 people are over the age of 65, and that number will double by 2030 as more of the Baby Boom generation become seniors. This “graying of America” will put tremendous strain on our infrastructure, especially the Medicare system.

With the growing population of seniors in the United States, the cost of Medicare may be the biggest threat to our nation’s economy. Sick people equate to higher medical costs, and for the most part as you age you tend to have more medical and health problems. This is why to combat the strain on Medicare it is crucial to pay attention to senior “wellness.”

Dr. Don Berwick, former Director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, has said that “20 to 30 percent of healthcare spending is waste” and that in order to fix the problem wellness should be one of the top focuses for the health care industry. By keeping seniors healthy, they remain independent, which translates to less emergency room visits, fewer days in the hospital and the reduction of the need for long-term care.

All too often we hear “if they had caught it earlier.” Many diseases or health risks begin to develop long before any symptoms become noticeable. The earlier theses diseases and conditions are detected, the greater chance they can be treated successfully. In some cases, early detection can increase survival rate by as much as 98 percent.

The evidence supporting preventive health services is overwhelming. Screening can reduce the incidence and mortality of colorectal cancer by as much as 35 to 75 percent. Unfortunately, only 45 to 55 percent of adults in the U.S. have been appropriately screened for colorectal cancer. Early detection of diabetes can significantly reduce the chances of developing complications associated with the disease. What is more, 64 percent of women and 50 percent of men who died suddenly of a heart attack had no prior knowledge of their heart disease. Equally important is mental health. Early detection of depression in the elderly is commonly overlooked, yet suicide rates are alarmingly high among seniors.

Historically, Medicare has done a decent job of covering healthcare costs when someone is sick, but has lacked focus on prevention that one might see with an HMO. Fortunately Medicare is course correcting and the impact on long-term healthcare costs could be dramatic – in the right direction for a change.

Medicare recipients now have access to nearly two dozen preventative screenings without owing copayments or deductibles because of the Affordable Healthcare Act. New this year, all private, federally subsidized Medicare Advantage plans are required to offer the same preventative screening coverage to their membership.

The following is a short list of common screenings and preventative care services now available to seniors:

• Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Screening

• Bone Mass Measurement

• Cardiovascular Screening

• Colorectal Cancer Screening

• Fecal Occult Blood Test

• Flexible Sigmoidoscopy

• Colonoscopy

• Barium Enema

• Diabetes Screening

• Diabetes Self-management Training

• Flu Shot

• Glaucoma Test

• Hepatitis B Shot

• HIV Screening

• Mammogram

• Medical Nutrition Therapy Services

• Pap Test and Pelvic Exam (includes breast exam)

• Physical Exam: Yearly “Wellness” exam

• Pneumococcal Shot

• Prostate Cancer Screening

• Smoking Cessation Counseling

If you are a senior on Medicare, please take advantage of these opportunities to stay healthy. Through preventative screenings and innovative ways to capture diagnostic information, such as mall kiosks, the health care system will be less bogged down by sickness and instead be focused on maintaining wellness. Seniors who are well, not only cost the system less, but are able to live a vital life – something we all strive for.

Downey is the president and CEO of Senior Community Centers, a nonprofit agency dedicated to increasing the quality of life for San Diego seniors living in poverty. Learn more at www.servingseniors.org.

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