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.

Health screenings save men’s lives

Are you the type of guy who puts off doing a task and later wishes he’d just done it? If you’re a man with Medicare, now’s the time to talk with your doctor about whether you should get screened for prostate cancer, for colorectal cancer, or for both. Screening tests can find cancer early, when treatment works best.

Don’t worry about the cost—if you’re a man 50 or over, Medicare covers a digital rectal exam once every 12 months. Also, Medicare covers a variety of colorectal cancer screenings—like the fecal occult blood test, flexible sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy—and you pay nothing for most tests.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, second only to lung cancer in the number of cancer deaths. Not sure 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.

Colorectal cancer is also common among men—in fact, it’s the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States among cancers that affect both men and women. If everyone 50 to 75 got screened regularly, we could avoid as many as 60% of deaths from this cancer.

In most cases, colorectal cancer develops from precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon or rectum. Fortunately, screening tests can find these polyps, so you can get them removed before they turn into cancer. If you’re 50 or older, or have a personal or family history of colorectal issues, make sure you get screened regularly for colorectal 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. Watch our videos on how Medicare has you covered on prostate cancer and colorectal cancer screenings, and visit the Men’s Health Network website on Men’s Health Month for more information.

Just say “no” to 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.

Medicare can help you quit smoking. Part B covers up to 8 face-to-face visits in a 12-month period when you get them from a qualified doctor or other Medicare-recognized practitioner. You pay nothing for the counseling sessions if your doctor or other health care provider accepts assignment.

Make May 31—designated by the World Health Organization as World “No Tobacco” Day—your starting point to kick the habit. Also, visit the National Cancer Institute to find free resources to help you quit smoking.

Don’t let the pressure get to you

Did you know about 1 in 3 adults in the United States has high blood pressure? You can have it for years without seeing any signs or symptoms of it. During this time, though, it can damage your heart, blood vessels, kidneys, and other parts of your body.

Not sure if you’re at risk? You may be if you:

  • Smoke
  • Eat salty foods
  • Don’t exercise enough
  • Drink more than a moderate amount of alcohol
  • Have a family history of high blood pressure
  • Are overweight

It’s important for you to know your blood pressure numbers, even when you’re feeling fine. Medicare helps make checking your blood pressure easy because it’s covered in your “Welcome to Medicare” preventive visit and yearly “wellness” visits at no cost to you.

May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month. For more information on how you can combat high blood pressure, visit the Center for Disease Control’s high blood pressure web page and check out our video.

Protect yourself from hepatitis

Did you know that hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver caused by a virus, affects millions of people worldwide, resulting in acute and chronic liver disease and killing 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.

Medicare can help keep you protected from the most common types of hepatitis.

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).

There’s a third type of Hepatitis—Hepatitis C. 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

May is Hepatitis Awareness month. To find out more about preventing and treating hepatitis visit the Centers for Disease Control’s Hepatitis web page and check out our video.

Making complaints easier

We hope every healthcare experience you have is a positive one. That’s why we offer you a variety of tools to express your concerns. One of those tools is the ability to file a complaint (sometimes called a “grievance”).

Do you have a complaint or an appeal?

A complaint is different than an appeal. A complaint is about the way your Medicare health plan or Medicare drug plan is giving care. Examples of complaints are problems with:

Things to know before you file a complaint:

Each plan has specific rules you’ll need to know and follow when filing a complaint. If, after filing a complaint, your plan doesn’t address the issue, call 1-800-MEDICARE for help. You can also call your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) for free, personalized help filing a complaint.

If you’ve contacted 1-800-MEDICARE but still need help, ask the 1-800-MEDICARE representative to send your inquiry or complaint to the Medicare Ombudsman’s Office. The Medicare Beneficiary Ombudsman helps you with Medicare-related complaints, grievances, and information requests.

In addition to basic information like your name and address, have your Medicare card and health plan card (if you have one) readily available when you’re ready to file your complaint. And, in the future, you can also use Medicare’s Blue Button to help. It provides you an easy way to download your personal health information to a file on your own personal computer. Check out the Blue Button through your account on MyMedicare.gov.

Older Americans Month 2015: Get into the Act.

Did you know that by the year 2020, more than 55 million U.S. adults will be over the age of 65? Older adults are a vital part of our society. Since 1963, communities across the country have shown their gratitude by celebrating Older Americans Month each May.  This year, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Older Americans Act, we’re focusing on how older adults are taking charge of their health, getting engaged in their communities, and making a positive impact in the lives of others.

Medicare helps older adults “Get into the Act” and promotes healthy living by offering vital preventive services like mammograms, diabetes screening, and colorectal cancer screenings. If you’ve had Part B for longer than 12 months, you can get an annual wellness visit to develop or update a personalized prevention help plan to prevent disease and disability based on your current health and risk factors.

Staying active, engaged, and healthy is good advice for everyone, but it’s especially important for older people. So don’t waste any time – get into the act and take charge of your health!