Now’s the Time for Your Free Flu Shot

Flu season is upon us—did you know it can start as early as October? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Get your flu shot now—it’s free for people with Medicare, once per flu season in the fall or winter, when given by doctors or other health care providers (such as senior centers and pharmacies) that take Medicare.

Stay healthy this flu season and help protect your loved ones. Get your flu shot early!

When Was Your Last Mammogram?

Have you had your mammogram this year? Mammograms are breast cancer screening tests that can often detect a lump before you or your doctor can feel it. This can help detect breast cancer early, when it’s the most treatable. All women over 40 should have a screening mammogram every 12 months – and Medicare covers it for free if your doctor accepts assignment.

Talk to your doctor about risk factors, and to schedule your next screening.  Ask your family members and friends if they’ve had theirs – share the health.

6 Tips for Heart Health

To be healthy, it’s important to take care of your heart. Follow these 6 tips to help prevent a heart attack or stroke:

  1.        Get your free cardiovascular screening. Medicare covers screenings for cholesterol, blood fat (lipids), and triglyceride levels at no cost to you. Call your doctor and schedule your screening today.
  2.        Take control. Follow your doctor’s instructions for drugs and treatment.
  3.        Prevent heart disease and stroke in your family by understanding the risks.
  4.        Get up and get active. Exercise for 30 minutes most days of the week.
  5.        Know your ABCS:

 6.          Stay strong. Eat a heart-healthy diet that’s high in fresh fruits and vegetables and low in sodium, saturated and trans fats, and cholesterol.

Making lifestyle changes and following these 6 steps can be challenging. Luckily, you don’t need to reach your heart health goals alone. Join Million Hearts, a national campaign from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Million Hearts aims to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes over the next 5 years. 

Following these 6 steps – starting with your free Medicare-covered cardiovascular screening – can greatly reduce your risk and help you be one in a Million Hearts.

10 Questions to Ask Your Doctor for Better Care

Did you ever just get home from your doctor’s appointment and remember something you wanted to ask or share with the doctor? 

Whether you’re at your Welcome to Medicare Preventive Visit, your Yearly Wellness Visit, or seeing the doctor for a specific problem, you get better care by asking questions and giving your doctor complete information.

You’re busy, and so is your doctor. Taking time to prepare your questions before your visit will help you get the most out of your health care.  Try these 10 basic questions to get started:

  1. What is the test for?
  2. How many times have you done this procedure?
  3. When will I get the results?
  4. Why do I need this treatment?
  5. Are there any alternatives or other options?
  6. What are the possible complications?
  7. Which hospital is best for my needs?
  8. How do you spell the name of that drug?
  9. Are there any side effects?
  10. Will this medicine interact with medicines that I’m already taking?

For more information and to feel more satisfied about your health care, visit the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s Question Builder and keep track of questions and answers. 

A simple question can help you feel better, help you take better care of yourself, and may save your life.

Medicare Open Enrollment: Better Choices, Sooner

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

Every year, people with Medicare get to explore new choices and pick the plans that work best for them. This year, this Open Enrollment period is starting early – on October 15 – and ending sooner – December 7.

As health plans start their marketing and advertising activities in just a few weeks, we want people to know that the Medicare program is strong and, in 2012, they have a broad array of choices. And, there are lots of new benefits thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

Every person with Medicare will have to choose a “Part D” plan to help them pay for prescription drugs. And people who have chosen to enroll in a “Part C” Medicare Advantage plan for their basic health care services have the option of staying in that plan, choosing a different plan, or going back to the Original Medicare program. These are important choices that should be made with care.

The good news is we have strengthened consumer protections and improved plan choices. We’re making it simpler for people to choose a new health or drug plan by reducing the number of duplicate plans. We’ve also worked with plans to reduce cost sharing on important benefits like inpatient hospitalization and mental health services.

And, thanks to our enhanced bargaining power we can report that average premiums for a Part D plan will be the same in 2012 as in 2011. The average premium for Part C plans is going down by 4 percent. That’s great news for people on Medicare who have a fixed income.

As with last year, people with Medicare will continue to have a variety of Medicare Advantage plan choices. Consumers in every part of the country will have a wide variety of Part D plan choices in 2012, including many plans with zero deductibles and plans with some form of generic gap coverage.

People with Medicare are also enjoying important new benefits. Every person is entitled to an Annual Wellness Visit with their doctor so that they can discuss their health and their health care needs. Prevention services like mammograms and other cancer screenings are now available with no cost-sharing. And people who reach the donut hole in their drug costs will get a 50% discount on covered brand name drugs and a 14 percent discount on generics. That puts money back in your pockets.

More good news for consumers is the fact that we’ll be closely monitoring marketplace performance to protect people from misleading information or prohibited tactics by a small minority of unscrupulous plans. Medicare plans are on notice: we’ll move quickly to take action against plans found to be violating marketing rules.

In short, there’ll be a wide range of health and drug plan options available across the country, including Original Medicare. People can turn to www.medicare.gov, call the 1-800-MEDICARE hotline, or consult with a local State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) for help. We want to make sure people can identify and enroll in the coverage option that suits their needs in 2012.

Million Hearts: Preventing Heart Attacks and Strokes

 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are the co-leaders of Million Hearts within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, working alongside other federal agencies including the National Institutes of Health, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and the Food and Drug Administration. Key private-sector partners include the American Heart Association and YMCA among others.

Heart disease and stroke are two of the leading causes of death in the United States. Million Hearts aims to improve heart disease and stroke prevention by focusing on five pillars of action:

  1. Graphic: Million HeartsPrioritize focus and attention around the ABCS (Aspirin for people at high risk, Blood pressure control, Cholesterol management, Smoking cessation)
  2. Encourage the meaningful use of health information technology (HIT) to drive improvement
  3. Deliver care innovations
  4. Foster community innovations
  5. Measure successes and shortfalls in clinical and community prevention

Million Hearts brings together existing efforts and new programs to improve health across communities and help Americans live longer, healthier, more productive lives. To learn more about the Million Hearts Initiative and to Be One in a Million Hearts visit millionhearts.hhs.gov and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Is Medicare Information Clear? Let Us Know.

Health care decisions can be tough – and they’re even harder when insurance forms, instructions and policy information aren’t written clearly.  At Medicare, it’s our job to make sure you can use our materials.

That’s why we’re committed to speaking and writing about the Medicare program in plain language. It’s another way we’re working to make health care information easier for you to use and understand.

The Plain Writing Act of 2010 means that plain language isn’t just good sense – now, it’s the law.  As a Federal agency, we’re required to make sure our letters, booklets, Web pages, and any other materials are clear, concise, and easy for you to act on.

We’re working hard to comply with the new law. We’re training our employees, reviewing our materials, and finding new, easier ways to communicate about our programs using the Federal Plain Language Guidelines.

But we need your help—how are we doing here at Medicare?

We’d like you to let us know if you have trouble understanding our documents or the pages on our Web site. We need to know, so we can make these things better.

Most of all, we want to give you the clear and accurate information you need to make good decisions for your family. Tell us how we’re doing.

More Americans Accessing Improved Medicare Coverage

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

Millions of Americans are enjoying improved Medicare coverage thanks to the Affordable Care Act. More people are getting preventive services to keep them healthy, and people with high prescription drug costs are seeing the coverage gap “donut hole” starting to close. Here are the latest numbers from the past few months:

  • July:
    • Through the end of July, 1.28 million Americans with Medicare have received discounts on brand name drugs in the Medicare Part D coverage gap — up from 899,000 through the end of June and 478,000 through the end of May.
    • These discounts have saved seniors and people with disabilities a total of$660 million, including $199 million in July alone!

For state-by-state information on the number of people who are benefiting from this discount in 2011, visit this page.

  • August:
    • Through the end of August, over 18.9 million people with Original Medicare, or 55.6 percent, have received one or more free preventive services.
    • During the same time period, over 1.2 million Americans with Original Medicare have taken advantage of Medicare’s new free Annual Wellness Visit, up from 1.06 million in July.

For state-by-state information on the numbers of people who are utilizing preventive services in 2011, visit this page.

Over the coming years, provisions of the Affordable Care Act will help close the coverage gap completely. Here is a sense of what people with Medicare can look forward to:

  • 2013: Paying less and less for your brand-name Part D prescription drugs in the coverage gap.
  • 2020: The coverage gap will be closed, meaning there will be no more “donut hole,” and people with Medicare will pay only 25% of the costs of their drugs until they reach the yearly out-of-pocket spending limit.

The chart below shows what people with Medicare prescription coverage will pay over time:

Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage Over Time

chart showing Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage Over Time

Put Insurance on Your Back-to-School Checklist

Pencils, backpack, lunch box? All covered. How about health insurance?

If you’re one of the millions of hard-working families without health insurance, there’s great news: the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) covers more kids than ever. CHIP offers low-cost or free health insurance for babies, children, and teens, even if you’re working or you’ve been turned down by state programs before.

CHIP pays for doctor visits, prescriptions, and hospitalizations. Most states also cover dental care, eye care, and medical equipment. What you pay depends on your state and your income, but many services are free, and charges for others are small.

Protect Your Child’s Health & Future

With coverage through CHIP, you can see a doctor when your child gets sick, without having to worry about how you’ll pay for it. Your kids can get the shots and well-child visits they need to attend school and play sports.

The fact is, children with health insurance are more likely to be healthier and miss fewer school days. When they do get sick, you won’t have to sit for hours in the emergency room for conditions that could be easily treated in your doctor’s office.

Applying for CHIP Is Easy & Free

In most states, you can complete a short application through the mail or over the phone. Visit insurekidsnow.gov, or make a free call to 1-877-KIDS-NOW (1-877-543-7669). 

Many families think they make too much money to qualify, but you’d be surprised. If you’re a grandparent or legal guardian, many states also let you apply for the children in your care.

Get Screened for Prostate Cancer

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Did you know prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men?

Help prevent prostate cancer from affecting you or the men in your life. If you’re 50 or older, make sure you get screened for prostate cancer every 12 months.

Medicare covers these two tests to help find prostate cancer early, when treatment works best:

  • Digital rectal exam—You pay 20% of the Medicare-approved amount after the yearly Part B deductible.
  • Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test—Free to all men with Medicare 50 and older (coverage for this test begins the day after your 50th birthday).

You can learn about prostate cancer by visiting the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Early detection matters: get screened every 12 months.