More and more people understand that the key to good health is preventive care. Even insurers are pushing for patients to take a proactive approach to their health and Medicare is no exception. Within their first year of eligibility, and then once a year after that, the program encourages all beneficiaries to take advantage of Medicare’s annual wellness visit.
The Medicare Annual Wellness Visit Explained
There are two types of annual wellness visits with Medicare. The first is the Welcome to Medicare preventive screening. It occurs during your first 12 months with Medicare Part B or Medicare Advantage. The second is the Yearly Wellness Visit, which you are eligible for once 12 months have passed since your initial Welcome to Medicare screening. Even if you miss your Welcome to Medicare visit, you may still take advantage of the yearly wellness visit.
Both visits cover the same basic items. Your doctor takes your vitals – height, weight, and blood pressure – and talks to you about your medical and social history. You undergo a vision test and talk about current conditions, medications, and any health concerns you may have. In addition, your healthcare provider talks to you about depression, as seniors are at heightened risk.
You and your provider discuss any risk factors present, as well as possible treatment options. He or she may also recommend further preventive screenings and shots, if your medical history indicates the need. Finally, your provider explains advance directives and planning to ensure you receive the type of care you want in the event you are no longer able to speak for yourself.
Why Should You Have an Annual Wellness Visit?
Any time doctors and insurance companies agree on something, you can be sure there’s a good reason. Simply put, preventive care works. Your doctor, of course, is driven by their desire to keep you healthy. Insurance companies, while not indifferent to your health, are driven by the fact that preventing illness is much cheaper than curing it is. That’s the very definition of the saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Your annual wellness visit helps your healthcare provider discover potential issues early, while they’re still easy (and less expensive) to treat. This yearly visit reveals a whole host of potential chronic health issues, including diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. And, once your doctor knows you’re at risk, he or she can begin treating you. For example, if your blood work shows that you’re at risk of developing diabetes, your doctor will recommend lifestyle changes to reduce your risk.
In addition to common chronic conditions, your yearly wellness check includes cancer screenings. When it comes to cancer, catching it early is the key to a successful fight. You want your doctor to discover it before those nasty cancer cells have a chance to metastasize and spread. You may not love your annual prostate exam, Pap smear, or mammogram, but they’re way better than the alternative.
How to Prepare for the Medicare Annual Wellness Visit
To make the most out of your wellness exam, it helps to go in prepared. Most of us plan all kinds of things to ask the doctor but, once we get there, those thoughts fly right out of our head.
Start by writing down a list of questions you have for your doctor. Then, make a list of all of the medications you take, including prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and supplements. If you can, gather your medical records, including labs and other diagnostics, and take these with you to your appointment. This helps your doctor fully understand your medical history. Include your family’s medical history in your notes for your doctor. He or she may order additional testing based on a family history of certain conditions or illnesses.
Next, take an honest look at where you’d like your health to be. Do you want to be more active? Are you looking to lose weight? These are items your doctor can advise you on to ensure you make healthy changes in a safe way.
Finally, if you’re struggling with depression, tell your doctor. Depression is incredibly common, particularly as we get older. Unfortunately, it’s also one of those things that many people are afraid or embarrassed to discuss with their doctor. The good news is that depression is treatable, but only if you talk to your healthcare provider about it.