Choosing quality health care every step of the way

It can be a bit intimidating to choose a hospital for surgery or to make plans for when you’re discharged.  Whenever you or a loved one with Medicare moves from one health care setting to another, use Hospital Compare, Home Health Compare and Nursing Home Compare to help you make smooth and safe transitions.

If you need surgery, make sure you and your plan of care team find a provider that meets your needs. Hospital Compare lets you compare up to 3 hospitals in your area to see how they did with different situations, such as giving their surgery patients an antibiotic at the right time to help prevent infection. It will also tell you about patient experience, such as the percentage of patients who reported “yes,” they would definitely recommend the hospital. Next, use our discharge planning checklist to help plan your next steps.

Where will you go once you’ve left the hospital? You might need home health services if your family and friends can’t effectively care for you and you’re not able to leave home without considerable effort. Medicare covers the cost of home health care if you’re eligible and your doctor says you need them.

You can use Home Health Compare to see how often a home health agency used best practices when caring for its patients and whether its patients got better in certain important areas of care. Once you narrow down your choices, our 12-point home health agency checklist can help you choose an agency that meets your needs.

In some cases, you and your plan of care team may decide you need to go to a nursing home instead of getting home health services. Medicare doesn’t cover most nursing home costs. Under certain limited conditions, Medicare will pay some nursing home costs if you need skilled nursing or rehabilitation services. Nursing Home Compare can help you find detailed information about every Medicare and Medicaid-certified nursing home in the country. Once you narrow down your choices, use our nursing home checklist to help you judge the places you call or visit.

You and your plan of care team have many important decisions to make whenever you move from a hospital to home health care or to a nursing home. Let our checklists and Hospital Compare, Home Health Compare and Nursing Home Compare help you make informed choices.

Stay healthy when traveling abroad

Got your passport? Check. Change of clothes? Check. Trip insurance? Check. Additional health care coverage? What?

You take time checking into airfare, hotels, and sightseeing adventures, so why not make sure you know what your health care covers when you go on vacation?  This is especially important if you’re traveling outside the U.S.

Original Medicare generally doesn’t cover care you get abroad—however, you are covered if you visit Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, or the Northern Mariana Islands, as they’re considered part of the U.S.

If you take a cruise, you may be covered by Medicare if the ship’s doctor is allowed to provide medical services under certain laws and the ship is closer than 6 hours away from a U.S. port. Medicare won’t cover services you get if your ship is further away than 6 hours from a U.S. port.

In rare cases, Medicare will pay for inpatient hospital services you get in Canada or Mexico. For example, you may be covered if you’re in the U.S. when a medical emergency happens and a Canadian or Mexican hospital is closer than the nearest U.S. hospital that can treat the emergency.

Visit “Medicare Coverage Outside the United States” for more details on what Medicare covers when you’re on a cruise or out of the country.

Also, keep healthy by being aware of local health conditions at your destination. The Centers for Disease Control’s Traveler’s Health Web page has health information for travel to more than 200 international destinations. Bon Voyage!

Spread the Word: Better Health is in Your Hands

Medicare has always covered preventive services to keep you healthy, and you already know how important they are. But did you know that your family and friends can also take advantage of them–even if they don’t have Medicare?

Under the health care law, many insurance companies must cover free preventive health services like yearly wellness visits, immunizations, some cancer screenings, and more. Your loved ones won’t have to pay a copayment or coinsurance, or meet a deductible, as long as they get these services from a provider in their plan’s network.

Taking advantage of these benefits is an easy and important way for your family and friends to stay healthy. Preventive benefits can keep them from getting certain diseases, or can help them find health problems early, when treatment works best.

Better health is in your hands–but not just your health. Talk with your friends and family so they can join the millions of Americans who are already using these benefits. By spreading the word today, you can help keep them healthy for all those tomorrows you want to enjoy.

Need more information?

  •          Review a full listing of covered preventive services for women, adults, and children.
  •          Talk to your doctor to see which preventive services are right for you.

How We Can Stop Older Americans From Being “Bullied”

Written By: Ingrid Donato, Mental Health Promotion Branch Chief, Center for Mental Health Services. Crosspost from SAMHSA Blog.

Bullying-like aggression can happen to people of all ages – including older Americans. One has to look no further than the situation of Karen Klein, the 68-year-old monitor of Bus 784 in Greece, NY who was tormented by adolescents in a school bus.

Although bullying is typically defined as occurring among youth, what happened on this bus shows that this type of aggression can happen to anyone.  For older adults these problems can occur in many settings, including their homes and long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes or assisted living residencesllying can come at the hands of many people in direct contact with elders, including caregivers, family, or even facility residents.

One of the most painful forms of bullying is isolation.

As hard as it is to spot, and sometimes accept, offenders may include family members and old friends, newly developed “friends” who intentionally prey on older adults, and service providers in positions of trust.

While there is no typical profile of an abuser, the following are some behavioral signs that may indicate problems:

  • Abusing alcohol or other drugs
  • Controlling elder’s actions: whom they see and talk to, where they go
  • Isolating elders from family and friends, which can increase dependence
  • Emotional/ financial dependency on elder; inability to be self‐sufficient
  • Threatening to leave or send elder to a nursing home
  • Appearing to be indifferent to the child or elder; seeming apathetic or hostile
  • Minimizing an elder’s injuries, blaming victim or others for the abuse, neglect, or exploitation
  • Threatening to harm a victim’s pet
  • Calling the elder and or young person names
  • Previous criminal history
  • Longstanding personality traits (bad temper, hypercritical, tendency to blame others for problems)

Taking time to listen and to really “hear” people–of any age—are the first lines of defense against bullying.  Looking for these signs and carefully talking with the older people in your life can be an important first step in determining whether or not there is a problem.  If you know someone who is being bullied or is a victim of aggressive behavior, there are steps you can take to get the bullying to stop – and the information is available at:

If you suspect elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation, visit the National Center on Elder Abuse to find phone numbers for your state, or call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116.  If someone is in immediate danger, call 911 or the local police.

Through communication and action, older Americans and people of all ages can free themselves of the risks, torment and trauma of events like what happened on Bus 784.

HIV testing saves lives

Did you know that more than 1 million Americans are living with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) infection, yet approximately 1 in 5 of them don’t know it?

Have you been tested? Medicare covers HIV screening once every 12 months, or up to 3 times during a pregnancy, 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). You pay nothing for the tests, but you generally have to pay 20% of the Medicare-approved amount for the doctor visit.

Early testing and diagnosis is key to prevention. At least 1 in 3 people in the U.S. who test positive for HIV is tested too late to get the full advantage of treatment. Early testing cuts the spread of disease, extends life expectancy, and cuts costs of care. Testing is an important first step in bringing people with HIV infection the medical care and support they need to improve their health and help them maintain safer behaviors.

June 27 is National HIV Testing Day. Make sure your loved ones have been tested—the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested for HIV at least once in their lifetime. You can learn more about HIV testing and what you can do to increase testing awareness by visiting the Centers for Disease Control.

Is your vision cloudy?

Do you or a loved one have cataracts?  A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s lens that affects vision. According to the National Eye Institute, by age 80, more than half of all Americans will either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery.

Medicare can help. Medicare Part B covers cataract surgery, and after surgery Medicare helps pay for cataract glasses, contact lenses, or intraocular lenses you get from an ophthalmologist.

Cataracts often come with age—they affect the vision of about half of all people between 65 and 74. Your risk for cataracts also may increase through long term exposure to sunlight, if you have diabetes, or if you smoke. New eyeglasses, brighter lighting, anti-glare sunglasses, or magnifying lenses may help your symptoms. If not, you may need surgery to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial lens.

June is Cataract Awareness Month. Visit the National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health to learn more about cataracts.

Get your prostate checked

Have you ever put off doing a task or getting a test and later wished you’d just gotten it over with? Now’s the time to talk with your doctor about whether you should get screened for prostate cancer. It’s the most common cancer in men, second only to lung cancer in the number of cancer deaths. The potential benefit of prostate cancer screening is early detection of cancer, which may make treatment more effective.

If you’re a man 50 or over, Medicare covers a digital rectal exam and Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test once every 12 months. Generally, you pay 20% of the Medicare-approved amount for the digital rectal exam after the yearly Part B deductible. You pay nothing for the PSA test.

Not sure if you should get screened? You’re at a higher risk for getting prostate cancer if you’re a man 50 or older, are African-American, or have a father, brother, or son who has had prostate cancer.

June is Men’s Health Month, a perfect time for you (and the men in your life) to take the steps to live a safer, healthier life. Visit the Centers for Disease Control for more information on men’s health and prostate cancer.



Ready to quit tobacco?

Are you or a loved one hooked on tobacco? Join the millions who’ve found a good reason to give it up—tobacco use is the second leading cause of death worldwide, responsible for 1 in every 10 adult deaths.

If you’re ready to quit, we can help. Part B covers free counseling sessions as a preventive service to help you quit smoking—you pay nothing if your doctor accepts Medicare’s payment.

If you’ve already been diagnosed with an illness caused or made worse by tobacco use or you take a medicine affected by tobacco, you can continue to get up to 8 face-to-face counseling visits every 12 months. You pay your Part B deductible, and 20% of the Medicare-approved amount. If you get counseling in a hospital outpatient setting, you also pay the hospital a copayment.

Make May 31—World “No Tobacco” Day—your starting point to kick the habit. Visit the Centers for Disease Control and the National Cancer Institute to learn more about tobacco use and how you can overcome it.

Also, watch our video about the World Health Organization’s World No Tobacco Day campaign and how Medicare supports it.

National Women’s Health Week: The Dangers of Using Tobacco Products

By: Lawrence R. Deyton, M.S.P.H., M.D. Crosspost from FDA Voice

The health of every American is of the utmost importance to the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the manufacture, marketing, and distribution of tobacco products.  Our Center for Tobacco Products works to improve public health, with the goal of making sure that tobacco-related death and disease is part of America’s past, not its future.National Women’s Health Week, May 13-19, provides an opportunity for us to reach out and remind the women in our lives about the dangers of tobacco use and exposure to second-hand smoke — which claims the lives of nearly 200,000 women every year.

Never starting to use tobacco products and quitting tobacco use – for those who do use tobacco – is proven to lead to longer and healthier lives for everyone.

There is no question that tobacco use is dangerous to women. Just consider a few of the facts:

  • An estimated 173,940 women die every year due to cigarette smoking
  • An estimated 18,000 non-smoking women die every year from exposure to second-hand smoke
  • Smoking causes almost 80% of lung cancer deaths in women
  • Smoking causes cervical cancer and eight other cancers
  • Smoking causes infertility and poor pregnancy outcomes
  • Smoking causes low bone density and hip fractures in women

National Women’s Health Week is the perfect time for you — or one of the important women in your life — to break a dangerous addiction to tobacco, and for those who do not use tobacco, it is a time to be empowered to never start. Need help? Here are some great resources:

When we spend countless hours taking care of our families and friends, it’s far too easy to forget to look after our own health. This coming week, make an investment in yourself and the women who are close to you by committing to a life that’s free of tobacco-related disease and death.

Lawrence R. Deyton, M.S.P.H., M.D., is the Director of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products

Protect yourself from Hepatitis B

Are you at risk for getting Hepatitis B? Hepatitis B is a serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the liver. Approximately 2,000–4,000 people die every year from Hepatitis B-related liver disease.

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.

The best way to prevent Hepatitis B is by getting the Hepatitis B vaccine, which is usually given as 3 shots over a 6-month period. You need to get all 3 shots for complete protection.

Medicare covers a series of shots for free if you’re at medium or high risk for Hepatitis B. Your risk increases if you have hemophilia (a rare bleeding disorder in which the blood doesn’t clot normally), End-Stage Renal Disease, or certain other conditions. You may also be at a higher risk if you live with someone who has Hepatitis B or if you’re a healthcare worker and have frequent contact with blood or body fluids. Ask your doctor if these shots are right for you.

May is Hepatitis Awareness month. To find out more about preventing and treating Hepatitis B, visit the Centers for Disease Control.

Also, watch our short YouTube video about Medicare’s efforts to prevent and treat hepatitis.