Get Free Health Tests – No Appointment Needed

When you’re busy with work and family, it’s hard to find time to schedule health appointments. To make it easy, you can get these free tests at AARP/Walgreens’ new “Wellness Tour” buses without making an appointment. And, as long as you’re 18 or older, you can get these tests even if you don’t have health insurance:

• Total Cholesterol Levels
• Blood Pressure
• Bone Density
• Glucose Levels
• Waist Circumference
• Body Mass Index

Find a “Wellness Tour” Stop Near You

There’s no advance paperwork to fill out – all you have to do to get these free tests is show up. You’ll be able to find “Wellness Tour” buses at community centers, Walgreens stores and other locations in more than 3,000 cities across the country, including Puerto Rico.

Get Your Test Results Instantly

After your tests, you’ll get your results instantly. Certified health screeners will walk you through each test and explain your results, so you can make sure you walk away informed. You can share your results with your doctor, so you can work together to decide what other tests, medications or lifestyle changes you may need to stay healthy.

Talk With Someone from Medicare

On select dates of the Wellness Tour, you’ll be able to talk with someone from Medicare who can personally answer your questions. If you have Medicare, remember that you can now get even more preventive services at little or no cost to you, including the “Welcome to Medicare” preventive visit.

We all know that schedules are tight, but what’s more important than your health? These free tests are important and an easy way to make sure you stay as healthy as possible. So, catch the bus for your first stop on the road to wellness.

Caring for a Loved One? Let Ask Medicare Answer Your Questions

As a caregiver, you may have questions about what Medicare covers, care options, and how much services cost. We recently updated Ask Medicare with your needs in mind, making it easier to navigate and quickly find answers to your questions.

Here’s what you can find on Ask Medicare:

• Information about care options
• Basic information about the Medicare program, explained in ways you can understand
• Tip sheets on topics like helping a loved one transition home from the hospital and finding financial help for providing care
• Resources for legal and financial support
• Personal stories describing how other caregivers meet common challenges
• Medicare/health care billing terms explained in plain language

You can also sign up the free Ask Medicare e-newsletter to get the latest Medicare news right in your inbox. The e-newsletter includes advice on handling challenging issues and information on organizations that support caregivers like you.

Are you part of the media or from a group that works with caregivers? The Ask Medicare resource kit includes print ads, and facts and statistics about caregivers.

Applying New Protections to Your Health Plan

By Karen Pollitz, Director for Consumer Support, Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight. Cross-post from Healthcare.gov

HMO. PPO. COBRA. Participating Provider. Allowable charges. Claim Denied. Sometimes it seems like health insurance is in a whole different language.

Knowing the Affordable Care Act protections are in place is one thing; but applying them to our own health plans or policies is another. Who doesn’t need help figuring out what it all means—starting with the terms of our coverage?

Today I’d like to tell you how you can put new protections and options to work for you.

Health insurance problems are difficult enough to sort through in the midst of our fast-paced lives, and they can be overwhelming when we’re facing illness or injury.

That’s why the Affordable Care Act included resources to strengthen existing or new Consumer Assistance Programs like the one that helped the Schley family maneuver the marketplace. If you need help with a health insurance problem or have a question about coverage or benefits, you can find out where to go in your state for help.

Our interactive Consumer Assistance Program Map , on HealthCare.gov will show you where you can find someone who “speaks insurance.” For consumers in states that didn’t apply for Consumer Assistance Program grants, the map offers links to a variety of public programs that may also be able to offer some assistance.

As you can see, there is a lot to celebrate in the first year. But, there is more to come down the road, and new rules will provide additional benefits to consumers. You will be hearing about new rules regarding more transparency in the marketplace so that consumers can be more informed about what services will be covered in plans.

And, starting in 2014, new state Health Insurance Exchanges will create more convenient and competitive marketplaces for individuals and small businesses. That same year, insurers will no longer be allowed to exclude anyone based on a pre-existing health conditions, which will offer more protection for consumers and increase access to care.

There is still plenty of work to do over the next few years. But first steps are important, and the consumer protections enacted through the Patient’s Bill of Rights this year have helped get us moving toward important changes for consumers. All Americans will benefit through the lower premiums, more efficient care, and other cost savings as the law unfolds over the next few years.

Ed note: this is the third in a series of three blogs about consumer protections made available thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

A Patient’s Bill of Rights

By Karen Pollitz, Director for Consumer Support, CCIIO. Cross-post from Healthcare.gov

Last week, I wrote about the Schley family who experienced first-hand the new consumer protections in the Affordable Care Act. There are a number of provisions that will move us towards a fairer, more affordable health insurance system — including the Patient’s Bill of Rights.

Because of health care reform, insurance companies:

•Can no longer deny coverage to children younger than 19 because of a pre-existing condition (Protection for adults will go into effect in 2014).
•Can’t take away your coverage based on an unintentional mistake you or your employer made on an application (also known as rescission of health coverage.).
•Must allow most children up to age 26 to stay on or be added to their parents’ family health plan.
•Must stop putting lifetime dollar limits on coverage (annual dollar limits are being phased out between now and 2014.)
•Must provide consumers their choice of any available primary care doctor or pediatrician in a plan’s network.
•Must ensure access to out-of-network emergency care without prior authorization or higher cost sharing that would otherwise be charged.
•Must meet certain basic standards when they review a consumer’s appeal of a denied claim. (The law also strengthens consumers’ rights to an independent “external” review when an insurer’s “internal review” upholds a claims denial.)
For most consumers, these protections kicked in sometime over the past few months at the start of a new plan or policy year. (Some plans in place when the Affordable Care Act was passed in March 2010 were “grandfathered” or exempt from some – but not all provisions. Always check with your plan or employer to find out if your plan is grandfathered.)

The consumer protections were designed to fix some of the most unfair practices of health insurers.

Congressional hearings in 2009, for example, shone a spot light on questionable rescissions in which insurance companies were cancelling coverage even when mistakes were unintentional or caused by other people. The primary care doctor provision was enacted because studies show that patients tend to experience better quality health care if they have long-term relationships with their health care provider. Other protections will improve the likelihood that children and young adults will get timely and appropriate health care services to be healthier, more productive adults down the road.

Ed note: this is the second in a series of three blogs about new consumer protections made available thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

Consumer Protections: Celebrating First Steps Toward a New Insurance Marketplace

By Karen Pollitz, Director for Consumer Support, CCIIO. Cross-post from Healthcare.gov

During the past year, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, some of us have personally experienced just how important the consumer protections—and other provisions– are in addressing some of the most glaring problems in the insurance marketplace.

Among those celebrating the Affordable Care Act’s birthday is the Schley family of Circleville, New York. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, David and Patricia’s 23 year-old-daughter, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, was added to the family health insurance plan. But before their daughter could be added to the family health plan in January 2011, she needed coverage for the month before the dependent coverage provision became effective. Patricia and David read about the New York program for covering people with a pre-existing condition in the newspaper—a program that is now available in every state in the country as a result of the Affordable Care Act. Patricia next tapped into another resource that was available through the Affordable Care Act—the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) in New York that provides case workers to help with insurance problems and questions. A caseworker in New York’s Consumer Assistance Program helped the family get the short-term coverage they needed in a timely manner. “Having a sick child, at any age, is stressful enough,” Patricia Schley said, but if your child in uninsured and the treatment for a condition like Crohn’s disease can cost up to $800 a month—having “to worry about how you’re going to pay for one bill after another only adds to the stress.”

For the Schley’s, the Affordable Care Act served up a “triple play” of protections, in the words of Elisabeth Benjamin, Vice President of Health Initiatives with the Community Service Society, which runs the Consumer Assistance Program through 25 community-based organizations across New York. The triple play included: access to the new Pre-existing Condition Insurance Program (PCIP), coverage for adult children who are under 26, and the strengthening of Consumer Assistance Programs (CAP) through federal grants to a number of states and territories—including New York.

We may not all need a “triple play” to resolve a health insurance problem. But even a “single” play can resolve some problems that can be devastating. Just ask the 100 million Americans whose health insurance coverage imposed lifetime dollar limits before they were prohibited under the Affordable Care Act. Or the estimated 2 to 4 million individuals who faced high out-of-pocket spending when they used out-of-network emergency care providers before consumer protections were enacted.

Over the next couple of days, I’ll be writing in more detail about the new consumer protections and services, including the ones that helped the Schleys. Please check back to find out more about how these can help you and your family.

Ed note: this is the first in a series of three blogs about new consumer protections made available thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

Improving Care for People with Medicare

By Don Berwick, M.D., Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Crossposted from HealthCare.gov

If you or a loved one has ever had the unfortunate experience of having a chronic or serious illness, you’ve experienced the frustration of our fragmented health care system. Just when you are feeling your worst, there you are in the doctor’s office or hospital room, repeating the same information time and time again, sitting through the same medical test more than once, and trying to track down lost or unavailable medical charts. These are all aspects of our current health care system we could each do without.

This can be a particular problem for the more than half of Medicare beneficiaries with five or more chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, and kidney disease. These patients often receive care from multiple physicians and in multiple sites. A failure to coordinate care can lead to patients not getting the care they need or receiving duplicative care. This lack of coordination also increases their risk of suffering medical errors, such as receiving prescriptions for medications that ought not to be taken together. It can also cause complications that lead to needless hospital stays. Nearly one in five Medicare patients discharged from the hospital is readmitted within 30 days – a readmission many patients could have avoided if their care outside of the hospital had been better coordinated.

Improving coordination and communication among physicians and other providers and suppliers will help improve the care Medicare beneficiaries receive, while also helping lower costs. Numerous studies have shown that better care often costs less, because coordinated care helps to ensure that the patient receives the right care at the right time.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today released proposed new rules to help doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers better coordinate care for Medicare patients through Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs). ACOs are designed to create and support a team of health care providers who treat individual patients by working together across care settings.

Over the last months, CMS has conducted extensive outreach to patient advocates, doctors, nurses, hospitals, health plans, employers, and other interested stakeholders to hear their thinking about the best way to shape this effort. We will continue to seek feedback on the proposed rules released today so that the final rules reflect the broadest consensus on how to improve care for people with Medicare and to provide a model for private payers to draw upon. We look forward to working with patients and care providers to build the most patient friendly and cost-effective health care system achievable

Under the proposal, ACO teams of doctors, hospitals and other health care providers and suppliers working together would coordinate and improve care for patients with Original Medicare. ACOs would have to meet high quality standards in five key areas:

•Patient/Caregiver Experience of Care
•Care Coordination
•Patient Safety
•Preventive Health
•At Risk Population/Frail Elderly Health

An ACO will be rewarded for providing better care and investing in bettering the health and lives of patients. ACOs are not just a new way to pay for care. They are a new model for the organization and delivery of care. Accountable Care Organizations are designed to lift the burden of fragmented and disconnected care from patients, while improving the partnership among patients, doctors, hospitals and other providers of care in making health care decisions.

To read more on this, check out the fact sheet. You can also read my blog at the New England Journal of Medicine.