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Obamacare’s Medicare Wellness Benefit ‘Nobody Knows’ About

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Apr
24

 

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 07:  Demonstrators, inc...

CHICAGO, IL – NOVEMBER 07: Demonstrators, including many senior citizens, protest against cuts to federal safety net programs, including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid on November 7, 2011 in Chicago. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

Only one in three older Americans have heard of Medicare’s annual wellness visit even though it’s free to seniors and pays doctors three times that of the average physician office visit, according to a new poll of older adults.

The poll released Tuesday by the nonprofit John A. Hartford Foundation, comes as Congress and the Obama administration wrestle with ways to rein in spending, particularly in the Medicare health insurance program for the elderly. The program would seemingly need seniors to take advantage of such low-cost benefits given Monday’s news from The Trustees of Medicare who say the program will remain solvent until 2024, but needs a long-term solution to secure its future.

The annual wellness visit, which has been offered by Medicare since January of 2011 as part of the Affordable Care Act signed into law two years ago by President Obama, is seen as a way to get seniors medical care upfront to avoid a less costly hospitalization down the road.

The wellness visit is not a physical exam but a way for a doctor to talk to the patient and ask questions about chronic conditions like diabetes or depression. Medicare beneficiaries can also work with a doctor to develop or update a plan to prevent disease, according to Medicare’s web site.

The poll of 1,028 adults age 65 and older was conducted by Lake Research Partners. It includes seniors in the fee-for-service Medicare program as well as so-called Medicare Advantage plans, which are operated by health insurance giants like Humana Inc. (HUM); Aetna, Inc. (AET); and UnitedHealth Group (UNH).

The wellness visit is a benefit under Medicare that “nobody knows” about, geriatric experts said in announcing the poll results.

The poll revealed that 68 percent of older adults “had not heard of the benefit or were not sure if they had heard of it.” Just 17 percent of those surveyed said they had received the benefit.

A wellness visit to a doctor’s office can be used to make sure Medicare beneficiaries are eating right or taking the right medications at the right time, which is a continuing problem for an elderly population known for forgetting to take their prescription drugs. Most doctors don’t discuss ways to avoid falling with the elderly, even when these seniors are on multiple medications, poll data also showed.

“They’re an enormous part of our health care system and yet they’re not very well served by the health care system,” John A. Hartford Foundation program director Christopher Langston said of elderly Americans in a conference call with reporters Monday.

Several health experts on the call in preparation for this morning’s release of the poll results said doctors and Medicare beneficiaries need to be better educated about the wellness visit and its availability.

The news is surprising given physicians are seemingly well paid for the wellness visit. Doctors are paid about $145 by Medicare for a wellness visit compared to a typical doctor’s office visit that would pay a physician about $45, John A. Hartford Foundation executives said.

“The Annual Wellness Visit represents a wonderful chance for doctors and patients to work together to make these proven preventive services an important part of their care plan,” Langston said.  “We urge all older people and their health care providers to take advantage of it and to have these important conversations.”

Article source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/brucejapsen/2012/04/24/obamacares-medicare-wellness-benefit-nobody-knows-about/

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