CMS Increases Efforts to Help Medicare Beneficiaries Make Greater Use of Preventive Services
With flu season upon us, now’s the time to urge our patients and staff members who haven’t yet been vaccinated against influenza to get their flu shots. Although Medicare covers the vaccinations, flu shots remain an underutilized benefit, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) reports. This is worrisome news, since the flu kills an estimated 36,000 Americans yearly—and the majority of deaths are among older adults. To help older people understand which vaccinations they need and when to get them, the American Geriatrics Society Foundation for Health in Aging recently published an easy-to-understand tip sheet, “It’s That Time of Year Again: Flu and Other Potentially Life-Saving Shots,” that covers flu, pneumococcal disease, tetanus/diphtheria, and herpes zoster vaccines, which are recommended for most older people. Available at www.healthinaging.org/public_ education/vaccination_tipsheet.php (see pages 9 and 10), the tip sheet may be duplicated and distributed at no cost. CMS also has posted a listing of resources concerning flu shots on its website at www.cms.hhs.gov/MLNMattersArticles/down loads/SE0667.pdf.
CMS’ effort to encourage older adults to get flu shots this year is just one of the agency’s recent undertakings aimed at helping Medicare beneficiaries make greater use of covered preventive services. The AGS is a long-standing supporter of immunization and other preventive healthcare services for older people. Medicare began offering preventive benefits in 1981 and has been expanding these benefits since then. Covered preventive services now include a “Welcome to Medicare” physical exam, adult immunizations, and cardiovascular disease and various cancer screenings. Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening will be covered starting in 2007. Overall use of preventive services, however, remains disappointingly low. “Ninety percent-plus of what we are spending is going for the complications of chronic disease,” CMS Administrator Mark McClellan, MD, said earlier this year, announcing new efforts to boost use of preventive healthcare benefits. “We can get healthier beneficiaries and a lot lower costs related to complications if we can get more prevention.” This past summer, CMS launched a nationwide effort to encourage minority seniors, who are less likely to take advantage of covered preventive services than are Caucasians, to do so. This fall, CMS extended that effort by launching its “My Health. My Medicare.” campaign.
In addition to raising awareness of preventive healthcare benefits, the campaign aims to raise awareness of the Medicare prescription drug benefit. The open enrollment period for the prescription drug benefit begins November 15, and the “My Health. My Medicare.” campaign runs through December 31—the last day of open enrollment for 2007 drug benefit coverage. As our series on Medicare Part D has noted, we should encourage our patients and their families to be better informed about this voluntary benefit. The “My Health. My Medicare.” campaign urges all healthcare providers to encourage beneficiaries to take advantage of covered services, and it includes media outreach, regional and national events to promote Medicare benefits, and the distribution of information and promotional materials such as flyers and posters. As part of the campaign, the new Medicare handbook focuses on preventive services. In addition, beneficiaries can call 1-800-MEDICARE or visit www.medicare.gov to find out whether they are up-to-date with preventive care. Beneficiaries also can make use of enhanced online versions of the “Medicare Prescription Drug Finder” and the “Medicare Personal Plan Finder,” as well as a new online tool, “My Health. My Medicare. Enrollment Checkup,” which enables them to evaluate their needs and coverage quickly. For more on “My Health. My Medicare.” and preventive healthcare benefits for your patients, visit www.cms.hhs.gov/MyHealthMyMedicare/Downloads/NationalPartnerLaunch.pdf.