Medicare protects you on World Hepatitis Day and every day

Hepatitis – “inflammation of the liver” – is often caused by viruses which affect millions of people worldwide and kill close to 1.4 million people every year.

Hepatitis is contagious. For example, the Hepatitis B virus spreads through contact with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person. People can also get infected by coming in contact with a contaminated object, where the virus can live for up to 7 days. Hepatitis B can range from being a mild illness, lasting a few weeks (acute), to a serious long-term illness (chronic) that can lead to liver disease or liver cancer.

Fortunately, Medicare can help keep you protected from the most common types of viral hepatitis strains—Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.

Generally, Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage) covers Hepatitis A shots when medically necessary.

Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) covers Hepatitis B shots, which usually are given as a series of 3 shots over a 6-month period (you need all 3 shots for complete protection).

Medicare covers a one-time Hepatitis C screening test if your primary care doctor or practitioner orders it and you meet one of these conditions:

  • You’re at high risk because you have a current or past history of illicit injection drug use
  • You had a blood transfusion before 1992, or
  • You were born between 1945 and 1965

July 28 is World Hepatitis Day. Worldwide 400 million people are living with Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C. Find out how you can prevent hepatitis and save 4,000 lives a day by visiting the World Health Alliance’s World Hepatitis Day web page.

Medicare and Medicaid: keeping Americans healthy for 50 years

Did you know Medicare and Medicaid turn 50 this week? The landscape of health care in America changed forever on July 30, 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the landmark amendment to the Social Security Act, giving life to the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Medicare and Medicaid save lives. They help people live longer and provide the peace of mind that comes with affordable health care that’s there when you need it.

It’s easy to forget that before 1966, roughly half of all seniors were uninsured and many disabled people, families with children, pregnant women and low-income working Americans were unable to afford the medical care they needed to stay healthy and productive.

Today, Medicare and Medicaid cover nearly 1 out of every 3 Americans—that’s well over 100 million people. It’s highly likely that you, someone in your family or someone you know has Medicare, Medicaid or both. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of these lifesaving programs lets us reflect on how they transformed the delivery of health care in the United States.

More than 55 million Americans depend on Medicare to cover hospital stays, lab tests and critical supplies like wheelchairs, as well as prescription drugs. Medicare also covers 23 types of preventive services, including flu shots and diabetes screenings. Some of these services are free, and for others you only have a small copayment or pay the deductible.Medicaid provides comprehensive coverage to more than 70 million eligible children, pregnant women, low-income adults and people living with disabilities. It covers essential services like annual check-ups, care for new and expecting mothers, and dental care for kids from low-income families.

How has Medicare or Medicaid (or both) helped your life or the life of someone you care about? Whether you’ve just enrolled or have been covered for decades, we’d love to hear from you. You can share your Medicare or Medicaid story through our Medicare.gov website, or connect with us on Twitter or our newly-launched Facebook page.

Choosing a home health agency just got easier

Are you the kind of shopper who reads reviews or looks at ratings before you make a purchase? Wouldn’t it be helpful to have the same kind of ratings when choosing a home health agency?

Choosing a home health service can be overwhelming. Agencies differ in the safety and quality of care they provide. That’s why we’ve made it easier to use the information on our Home Health Compare site by adding quality of patient care star ratings.

Compare websites are a valuable source of information about the quality of health care providers and facilities. The quality of patient care star ratings we’ve just added to the Home Health Compare website summarize each agency’s performance across 9 quality measures, including things like:

Agencies get a rating from 1 to 5 stars, with 1 as the lowest score and 5 as the highest. Agencies get a higher star rating when they follow recommended care practices for more patients, and when more of their patients show improvement.

Sharing patients’ experience of care through star ratings is just one example of how we’re committed to helping you make health care decisions based upon available information. We just made it easier to use the information on our Hospital Compare site by adding star ratings for patients’ experience of care. Our Nursing Home Compare site already uses star ratings to help consumers compare nursing homes and choose one with quality in mind. Physician Compare has started to include star ratings in certain situations for physician large group practices, and we added star ratings to our Dialysis Facility Compare site to help to make data on dialysis centers easier to understand and use.

The methodology for calculating the Quality of Patient Care Star Rating is based on a combination of individual measure rankings and the statistical significance of the difference between the performance of an individual HHA on each measure (risk-adjusted, if an outcome measure) and the performance of all HHAs. An HHA’s quality measure values are compared to national agency medians, and its rating is adjusted to reflect the differences relative to other agencies’ quality measure values. These adjusted ratings are then combined into one overall star rating that summarizes performance across all 9 individual measures. The details of the calculation are included in the methodology report referenced above.

What you need to know first about enrolling in Medicare

A healthy life is a good life. The Medicare benefits you’ve earned ensure that you can receive the care you need, when you need it.

And, when it comes to Medicare benefits, the most important thing to remember is to apply for them at age 65.

On your behalf, advocacy groups asked us to place a greater emphasis on information about enrolling in Medicare at age 65, and specifically, about the potential problems that arise if you don’t.

In the past few months, in conjunction with the White House Conference on Aging, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Social Security Administration have strengthened many of our communications products to ensure that all people nearing age 65 hear the following message:

Three months before your 65th birthday, you should apply for Medicare benefits. At that time, you’ll be asked to elect if you also want Medicare Part B that helps pay for doctors’ services and many other medical services and supplies that hospital insurance doesn’t cover. If you don’t sign up at age 65, and you then decide to enroll later, you may pay a lifetime late enrollment penalty and you may have a gap in medical insurance coverage. There are exceptions, but play it safe, and ask your Medicare or Social Security representative about your personal situation.

To make this message clear, our two agencies have already:

In the next few months, we will update our website and the Medicare initial enrollment period package; revise more Medicare publications; and add online resources for people who are still working.

Visit Medicare.gov to find out more about enrolling in Medicare. And, remember to apply online for Medicare three months before your 65th birthday!

Take control, take the test for HIV

Did you know that about 1 in 7 of the more than 1 million Americans infected with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) don’t know they’re carrying the virus?

And, about 1 in 4 people in the U.S. who test positive for HIV are tested too late to get the full advantage of treatment. The good news is that testing is an important first step in getting HIV-infected people the medical care and support they need to improve their health and help them maintain safer behaviors – and Medicare can help.

Medicare covers HIV screening for people with Medicare of any age who ask for the test, pregnant women, and people at increased risk for the infection (such as gay and bisexual men, injection drug users, or people with multiple sexual partners).

HIV is the virus that can lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. There have been many advances in treatment, but early testing and diagnosis play key roles in reducing the spread of the disease, extending life expectancy, and cutting costs of care.

Take control and take the test. Visit Health & Human Services’ Aids.gov website to learn more about National HIV Testing Day, June 27 and watch our video.

Help the Environment—Go Paperless!

June 5th is World Environment Day – a day for encouraging awareness and action for the environment that’s celebrated in over 100 countries worldwide.  How can you make your voice heard this year?  One great way is to sign up to get your “Medicare & You” handbook electronically.

If you have an eReader (like an iPad, Kindle Fire, Surface, or Galaxy Tab) you can download a free digital version of the Medicare & You handbook to your eReader and take it with you anywhere you go.

Don’t have an eReader? You can still sign up to get a paperless version in a few simple steps. We’ll send you an email in September when the new eHandbook is available. The email will explain that instead of getting a paper copy in your mailbox each October, you’ll get an email linking you to the online version of “Medicare & You.” This online version of the handbook contains all the same information as the printed version.

Even better, the handbook information on Medicare.gov is updated regularly, so you can be confident that you have the most up-to-date Medicare information!

Sign up today to get your Medicare & You information electronically, and you’ll be making a difference for the environment. What a great way to make your voice heard and celebrate World Environment Day.

Traveling abroad? Check health coverage off your to-do list first!

If you’re planning a vacation abroad, you already know that there’s a lot to do before you leave. There are suitcases to pack, an itinerary to plan, and perhaps a passport to renew. We want you to have a fun, relaxing trip – so don’t forget to include health coverage on your to-do list.

If you have Original Medicare, your health care services and supplies are covered when you’re in the U.S., which includes Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

But, if you plan to travel overseas or outside the U.S. (including to Canada or Mexico), it’s important to know that in most cases, Medicare won’t pay for health care services or supplies you get outside the U.S. (except in these rare cases).

That doesn’t mean you have to travel without coverage. There are several ways you can get health coverage outside the U.S.:

  1. If you have a Medigap policy, check your policy to see if it includes coverage outside the U.S.
  2. If you get your health care from another Medicare health plan (rather than Original Medicare), check with your plan to see if they offer coverage outside the U.S.
  3. Purchase a travel insurance policy that includes health coverage.

In all 3 cases, check with your policy or plan before traveling and make sure you understand what is covered outside the U.S. For information on other foreign travel situations (like a cruise, dialysis, or prescription drugs) you can watch this video.

Taking the time to plan out your health coverage before you travel abroad will help you to have an enjoyable and relaxing trip. For more information on how to stay healthy abroad, visit the Centers for Disease Control’s Traveler’s Health page.