Know the questions. Questions, answers and health tips for the Hispanic community

When I’m getting ready to buy a new product, I will look for the clerk at the store and ask all kinds of questions.  However, when I see the doctor, I find that I don’t ask questions because I’m not sure what to ask, or I’m too embarrassed to ask. Let’s face it, many in our Hispanic community prefer to ask a coworker, friend or even a family member about health concerns or treatment advice rather than going to the doctor.

Well, now there’s a  Spanish Web site by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) that can help us ask the right questions and can improve communication with our doctors. Conozca las preguntas (Know the questions. Questions, answers and health tips for the Hispanic community) offers tips and sample questions to help you prepare for your medical appointments. You can even get biweekly tips on how to talk to your doctor. There’s also a Web site available for smart phones.

If you ask questions and talk openly with your doctor, you can improve not only your health, but also your quality of care.  

Affordable Care Act Saves $260 Million This Year

By Donald M. Berwick, M.D., Administrator, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Cross posted from Healthcare.gov

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, almost half a million individuals enrolled in Medicare’s prescription drug benefit have received a 50 percent discount on their out-of-pocket costs in the first five months of 2011.

Because of Medicare improvements in the Affordable Care Act, beneficiaries now automatically receive a 50 percent discount on covered brand-name drugs in the Part D coverage gap, or “donut hole,” and have saved more than $260 million so far this year.

In May alone, we have seen a 76 percent increase in the number of beneficiaries receiving this discount (478,272 individuals through the end of May compared to 270,900 through the end of April). In addition, the total savings these beneficiaries received grew over 56 percent in one month, for a total average savings of $545 per beneficiary (for state-by-state figures, please click here).

Most of these discounts are helping Americans with serious medical conditions – nearly 14 percent of the benefits provided to date – more than $36 million – are for cancer drugs, more than 8 percent or $21 million for drugs to help control high blood pressure and cholesterol, and another more than 7 percent – about $20 million – are for drugs provides to diabetic patients.

As more and more beneficiaries hit the donut hole through the rest of this year, the numbers will continue to climb. All of these beneficiaries will see savings on their drug costs that were not available in previous years.

And cheaper prescriptions are just one of the many ways the Affordable Care Act is improving Medicare for seniors. Thanks to the new law, many preventive care screenings are available free of charge. As of June 10, we found that about 5.5 million people with Medicare have accessed one or more preventive measures and last week, we launched a new awareness effort– Share the News, Share the Health – to highlight Medicare’s preventive benefits and encourage Medicare beneficiaries taking advantage of these potentially lifesaving services.

More information on the free preventive services that are available to people on Medicare can be found on the “Manage Your Health” tab at www.Medicare.gov.

¿Habla usted español? Es.Medicare.gov speaks your language.

You already know that Medicare.gov has a wealth of current information: everything from basic costs and coverage to details about screening tests and visits to help you stay healthy.

Es.Medicare.gov is one of many ways we’re sharing Medicare information so everyone can better understand their health care options and get the best care. Now, Es.Medicare.gov also includes everything you need to know about preventive benefits, like recommended cancer screenings and discounts on brand-name drugs in the donut hole.

Here’s what you’ll find:

  • ·         Details about exactly what Medicare covers and what you pay, including for preventive tests and screenings
  • ·         Helpful Web sites and phone numbers for people who can answer your questions
  • ·         “Medicare & You” handbook
  • ·         Fact sheets and publications with specific details about the Medicare Program
  • ·         Step-by-step information about how to file an appeal
  • ·         Forms to apply for Medicare , file claims, and more

Visit Es.Medicare.gov, and tell your friends and family. Because when you share the news, you share the health.

22 Things You Need to Know: Which Test is Right for You?

By Julie Bataille, Director, Office of Communications, CMS. Cross post from Healthcare.gov

You have your grocery list. You have your “to-do” list. You even have a post-it note stuck to your steering wheel in your car reminding you to get your oil changed. We write things down to help us remember when life gets busy.  And when it comes to your health, there seem to be about a million things to remember. So why don’t you have a checklist dedicated to the care and keeping of you?

Take this checklist to your doctor or other health care provider to find out what preventive services are right for you. This comprehensive check-list spells out the Medicare covered preventive services and allows you to keep track of when you received a particular test, screening, or service, as well as when you are due for your next one. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, these preventive services ranging from mammograms and flu shots to a yearly “wellness” visit, are offered free of charge to patients covered by Medicare.

 

Be sure to visit MyMedicare.gov to continue tracking your preventive services. You can get a two-year calendar of the Medicare-covered tests and screenings you’re eligible for. You can even print a personalized report to take with you to your next doctor’s appointment.

To help spread the word about Medicare’s preventive benefits, we just launched the Share the News, Share the Health campaign.  Help us spread the word by telling your friends and family with Medicare about the difference these preventive benefits can make.

So don’t forget to pick up your milk and bread at the grocery store, and build time in to your busy schedule to get your oil changed. But also make sure you have your preventive services checklist updated and ready for your next doctor’s appointment. That way, you will know the right questions to ask your doctor to guarantee you are receiving the preventive services you need.

Prevention Just Makes Sense

By Don Berwick, Administrator, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

“Prevention” is a word we use a lot in health care – June is “National Prevention and Wellness Month” – but I want to take a minute to think about what it really means.

Intuitively, prevention makes sense: as the saying goes, you can either pay now or you can pay later. But oddly enough, our health care system often doesn’t reflect this fundamental mindset. Most health care focuses on treating disease. Prevention, on the other hand, focuses on health.

Preventive care is also patient-centered care, as people become active participants in maintaining their health and get services customized for their individual needs and preferences.

We know that prevention works. The Affordable Care Act provides new ways to help patients stay healthy and makes access to preventive services easier.

Today, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a new report showing that more than 5 million Americans with traditional Medicare, or nearly one in six people with Medicare, took advantage of one or more of the recommended preventive benefits now available for free thanks to the Affordable Care Act – most prominently, mammograms, bone density screenings, and screenings for prostate cancer.

These are just a few of the preventive services available to people on Medicare. Earlier this year, Medicare eliminated the Part B deductible and copayments for a host of preventive services, including bone mass measurement, some cancer screenings, diabetes and cholesterol tests, and flu, pneumonia, and hepatitis B shots.

We’ve also eliminated out-of-pocket costs for the “Welcome to Medicare” preventive visit and, for the first time since the Medicare program was created in 1965, Medicare now covers an annual wellness visit with a participating doctor, also at no cost.

We’ve added expanded prescription drug benefits to the preventive arsenal as well. This year, people with Medicare started to benefit from a 50% percent discount on covered brand name drugs bought when they’re in the donut hole, and we’ll continue to chip away at the donut hole until it’s closed in 2020. Making prescription drugs more affordable increases the chance they’ll be taken as needed. Again – prevention just makes sense.

Find out which preventive services are right for you by taking this checklist to your doctor or other health care provider.

Our job now is to ensure that everyone eligible for Medicare uses these benefits. We need to encourage every person with Medicare, every caregiver, every physician to join our nationwide campaign for prevention. We are calling our campaign, Share the News, Share the Health, which will run throughout the summer, with online ads and community events all over the country starting in July.

Focusing on prevention doesn’t just improve care – it’s also an important step in reducing the cost of health care. The financial costs of treating chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes are enormous. Add in the intangible costs of pain and suffering, and the very real economic costs of lost productivity, and the opportunity costs of chronic illness are simply unacceptable.

This is why we’re also working closely to incorporate best practices from the Centers for Disease Control, particularly around ways to reduce cardiovascular mortality. This type of collaboration is critical to moving us towards a prevention-based model of care.

Focusing on prevention also makes sense when we value treating the whole patient – not just a condition or disease. When we help people take better care of their health, everyone in the community benefits. If we wait to pay for care as illness progresses, the price of health care for the country will continue to rise.

Prevention just makes sense.

Keeping The System Clean: Fighting Medicare Fraud

By Richard Sorian, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs. Crosspost from Healthcare.gov

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) teamed up with the Department of Justice (DOJ) for the sixth Health Care Fraud Prevention Summit in Philadelphia. This historic moment in Medicare’s fight against fraud illustrates yet another way the health care law, the Affordable Care Act, is making America stronger, safer, and healthier.  In fact this law is one of the toughest anti-fraud laws in American history. Since of the launch of the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) task force in 2009, over 670 defendants have been charged for attempting to defraud Medicare of more than $1.3 billion taxpayer dollars.

And we are continuing to use our resources to stop each instance of health care fraud before payments are sent out the door. We have to stay ahead of the criminals and identify their patterns of behavior. Luckily, we are beginning to utilize state-of-the-art analytic technology to predict and identify fraudulent claims in their early stages.

This technology is the same system your bank uses to protect you from potential credit card fraud. From now on, fraudulent Medicare claims will be identified and flagged the same way your card is when the bank sees two exorbitant charges within minutes of each other, 3,000 miles apart. Going forward, a contract between the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and Northrop Grumman in partnership with National Government Services and Verizon’s Federal Network Systems officially applies this industry-leading technology to our health care fraud prevention efforts.

So today, we are able to continue to build partnerships between public and private stakeholders, each committed to fight health care fraud. We must all invest in protecting the future of our health care system. The harder we work today, the stronger our system will be for years to come.

As we strive to stop Medicare fraud in its tracks, here are some useful tips for you to stop Medicare fraud in your own home:

  • Guard your Medicare and Social Security numbers. Treat them like you would treat your credit cards.
  • Be suspicious of anyone who offers you free medical equipment or services and then requests your Medicare number. If it’s free, they don’t need your number!
  • Do not let anyone borrow or pay to use your Medicare ID card or your identity. It’s illegal, and it’s not worth it!

Learn About Prevention – Free Preventive Care and Services

By Mayra Alvarez, Director of Public Health Policy, HHS. Crosspost from Healthcare.gov

You take your car in for a yearly smog check, change the battery in your kitchen’s smoke detector, and file your taxes. These are all things that keep your life running smoothly and help prevent problems before they start.

But what about you? Do you use health services to help prevent illness? Unfortunately Americans use preventive health services at about half the recommended rate, often because of cost concerns. This is dangerous to our health because chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are responsible for 7 of 10 deaths among Americans each year and are often preventable.

Now, under the Affordable Care Act, you and your family may be eligible for important preventive services  –  for free. If you or your family enrolled in a new health plan on or after September 23, 2010, then your plan is required to cover certain recommended preventive services without charging you a copay, co-insurance or deductible. This means wellness and prevention services are now free and more accessible for you and your family.

For example, you may now have access to free preventive services such as:

  • Blood pressure readings, cholesterol tests, and nutrition counseling
  • Many cancer screenings, including mammograms and colonoscopies
  • Flu and pneumonia shots
  • Routine vaccinations against diseases such as measles, hepatitis, and meningitis

For people enrolled in Medicare, you may now qualify for a yearly wellness exam and many preventive services for free.   More than 150,000 seniors and others with Medicare have received an annual wellness visit. The health care law is bringing new preventive benefits while helping to cut costs for seniors and keep them healthy.

Please visit this page for a complete list of covered preventive services.  To learn more about what preventive services are recommended for you, please visit http://finder.healthcare.gov/

Prevention: Reducing Health Disparities and Improving Health Equity

By Mayra Alvarez, Director of Public Health Policy, HHS. Crosspost from Healthcare.gov

Today, we posted a new factsheet outlining the many ways in which the Affordable Care Act will reduce health disparities across the U.S. All across the country, low-income Americans, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBT, and other underserved populations have not had adequate access to health care.

This means, these underserved populations are not able to take advantage of preventive services available to help them stay healthy and fight chronic disease. Now, thanks to the Affordable Care Act:

  • Healthy choices will be made easy and affordable. All insurance plans will provide more Americans access to preventive services. Medicare and some private insurance plans will now cover recommended preventive services and states will be encouraged to do the same in Medicaid.
  • Access to quality health care in underserved communities will be improved. Over the next 5 years, the law provides $1 billion in funding for the operation, expansion and construction of community health centers across the country and invests in healthcare workforce programs.
  • Programs will be better targeted through advance scientific knowledge and innovation. The law invests in implementation of a new health data collection to identify and reduce disparities.
  • Create a fairer and easier way to understand the health care system. In 2014 insurance discrimination will be banned. A new, competitive health insurance marketplace will be created in 2014 to enable people to “one-stop-shop” and choose quality, affordable health insurance.

For more information on HHS’ commitment to reducing health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities, check out the HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, which was announced this past April. Built on the strong foundation of the Affordable Care Act, the HHS Action plan is aligned with programs such as Healthy People 2020, the First Lady’s Let’s Move initiative, and the President’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy. This Action Plan outlines the goals and actions HHS will take to reduce health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities by promoting integrated approaches and best practices to reduce these striking disparities.

Why Wait? Use MyMedicare.gov

Control how you get and keep track of your health information with MyMedicare.gov. It’s available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, so you never have to wait to get service.

Use MyMedicare.gov to:

  • Search for and read your claims
  • Order Medicare Summary Notices (MSNs) if you need more copies
  • Make a calendar showing when you’re next due for preventive services
  • Keep track of the prescription drugs you take
  • Store your doctors’ information
  • Print your “On the Go Report” of health and doctor information
  • Use the “Blue Button” to download your personal health information to a file you can share with your doctor, caregiver, or other providers

Check Your Claims for Fraud

Do you balance your checkbook and review the charges on your credit cards, looking for charges you didn’t make? Reviewing your Medicare claims is another way you can protect yourself from fraud. Use MyMedicare.gov to check your claims online – they’re usually available within a day of processing.

The sooner you spot any errors, the faster they can be corrected. Report suspected instances of fraud by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048. Learn more about protecting yourself and Medicare from fraud.

This June, Get Healthy, Stay Healthy

By Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services

Cross-posted from HealthCare.gov

There’s nothing more important than health. It’s what allows us to do our jobs, spend time with friends, and watch our children grow old. For America, the health of our citizens is the foundation of our prosperity. Healthy adults are more productive workers. Healthy children are better students. Healthy families can make longer-lasting contributions to their communities.

We know there’s more to good health than going to the hospital when you get sick. Good health starts with steps we can all take to avoid getting sick in the first place, from getting regular check-ups, vaccinations, and recommended screenings, to eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise.

In the past, our health care system functioned more like a sick care system. Even though seven of ten deaths in America and three quarters of our nation’s health expenditures are due to chronic diseases, we were investing only 4 cents of every health care dollar in prevention – the kind of care to keep people from getting diseases in the first place.

That is changing under the Obama Administration, and this June, we are marking our nation’s first-ever Prevention and Wellness Month. Over the next month, you can look forward to announcements, activities, and tips that will help you and your family get healthy and stay healthy.

For example, Americans now have new health benefits thanks to the health care law President Obama signed last year. Millions of people can now get cancer screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies, as well as vaccinations and counseling for chronic conditions like obesity, smoking, and depression, at no additional cost. And Medicare beneficiaries can now have a yearly health checkup with their doctor to develop and update a personalized wellness plan without having to pay anything out of pocket.

People want to make healthy eating choices for themselves and their families, so we’re putting more information in their hands. For example, we’re working with the food industry so that restaurants make their menu items easier to understand for health-conscious diners, and we’re working with food producers to improve and standardize nutrition labeling on the front and back of the package.

Everyone has a role to play in shaping America’s health. The good news is that communities across America have already been leading the way. Neighbors are planting community gardens, parents are organizing after-school programs, and local advocates are building new park trails. A big part of our health strategy is simply supporting these communities and sharing their ideas, so that they can become role models for the rest of the country.

And we know there are more good ideas out there, which is why we’ll also be asking you to share your own health and wellness tips this month. Tell us how you are contributing to a healthier future by leaving a comment on our Facebook page or by sending a tweet to @HealthCareGov with the hashtag #prevention. We’ll feature some of your ideas on our blog and social media websites to help inspire others.

In the end, we’re all responsible for our own health. But we know that when we work together to make healthy choices easier and more affordable, everyone benefits. So during Prevention and Wellness Month, you’ll also learn about business initiatives that help make the workplace a healthier environment. And you’ll hear about how we’re working across government to make health a priority in everything from transportation to housing policy.

Across the country, Americans are taking on today’s health challenges in exciting, innovative ways that recognize the value of preventing health problems before they occur. If we can build on and expand these prevention and wellness efforts, the payoff won’t just fewer health problems. It will be longer, richer lives to share with your friends and family, and a stronger, more prosperous, and a more competitive nation for all of us.