LAST MONTH, I went on about all the various deductibles, co-pays, etc. associated with Medicare Parts A and B in 2019.
If you managed to get all the way to the end, I wrote:
“What’s the best way to avoid undue Medicare costs?
“Stay healthy. (No, I’m not kidding).
“And, we haven’t even touched Medicare’s preventive benefits. But we will.”
So, we are, but let me lapse into being a Medicare “cheerleader” (there’s a picture that you probably didn’t need …) for just a moment.
The various Medicare preventive benefits are notoriously under-utilized.
There are probably a lot of reasons for that, such as (a) we don’t know they exist, (b) we hate to go to the doctor for anything, (c) we don’t want to hear any “bad” news, (d) we can’t tear ourselves away from the television, or (e) we think it’s going to cost a lot.
I’ll help with (a) and (e) here in a moment, but for the others, let’s be honest for a minute: Sure, going to the doctor for anything is a hassle and not toward the top of our “Fun Things to Do” list but the fact is that if there’s any “bad” news to be had, it’s only going to get worse — our ignorance of the “problem” won’t make it go away.
So, would we prefer a little “bad” news now, or (perhaps) a lot of bad news later? Right.
And if you’re thinking that not using these preventive benefits will save Medicare money … wrong.
You’re not getting sick(er) is what will save Medicare money.
OK, now I’ll put down my pom-poms and get on with it.
First, if you’re a computer/internet type, go to www.medicare.gov/coverage/preventive-screening-services and you’ll be looking at the same stuff I’m looking at, and you’ll see a pretty extensive list of preventive tests and screenings.
Some of them are free, some will involve us paying our 20 percent (remember, Medicare generally pays 80 percent of the amount it approves) and some of them are targeted to certain “high-risk” patients.
But anything that helps prevent bad news from getting worse is usually a good deal.
Here are some examples and, remember, these are all covered by Medicare Part B, and we assume that your doctor/practitioner accepts Medicare assignments:
• You’re eligible for a one-time “Welcome to Medicare” visit within 12 months of enrolling in Part B. The idea is to spot trouble spots and make a plan for avoiding trouble spots for free;
• You’re eligible for an annual “Wellness Visit,” once every 12 months as a way of checking in, updating the “baseline” and updating the plan for free;
• Flu shots? Free once per year;
• Pneumococcal shots are free;
• Prostate cancer screenings for men older than 50: The dreaded “digital” has the 20 percent co-pay, and the PSA blood test is free, once per year;
• Mammograms: A diagnostic mammogram has the 20 percent co-pay, while the screening mammogram is free;
• Cervical and vaginal cancer screening every 24 months is free;
• Cardiovascular disease screening: The screening blood test is free every 5 years.
I could go on, but I won’t.
Except, I will about one more thing: A depression screening is free once per year.
Whether we want to admit or not, this is a big deal for a lot of us who are old enough to even care about Medicare.
We’re quick to “write it off” to this-or-that problem/issue/crisis, or just to “old age,” but the fact is that depression is real and it’s treatable and it can cause a lot of other problems.
Personally, I think I’d rather be smart than tough.
We’d tell our kids to do this and we’d tell our friends to do this — why wouldn’t we, then, do it ourselves?
I’ve been whining for years that “aging is not an affliction, it’s an achievement” so why wouldn’t we make it as pleasant and palatable as possible?
Why not feel as good as we can?
And why not spare the people we purport to love the questionable opportunity of “taking care of us” (and we all know how annoying that is) if it can be avoided?
I’m almost done.
Most of us won’t become pencil-thin, vegan marathon runners, and most of us will probably retain the unfortunate habit or predilection, here and there. I get it. I’m there. But why wouldn’t we choose to feel as good as we can, so we can do as much as we can?
I don’t know.
Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing [email protected].