Older Americans Month 2013: Unleash the Power of Age!

For 50 years, May has been the month we celebrate older adults across the nation. You could say that Older Americans Month is coming of age. This year’s theme—“Unleash the Power of Age!”—emphasizes older Americans’ potential for energy and activism and urges them to embrace it.

There’s no age limit on achievement—and older Americans are doing incredible things. They make a difference in their communities by continuing their careers, pursuing new business ventures, and volunteering in their retirement years.  To find ways to get involved in your community, visit Serve.gov.

Staying active, engaged, and healthy is good advice for everyone, but it’s especially important for older people. The U.S Administration on Aging (AoA), supports older adults through programs and resources to encourage healthy living. In addition, the Affordable Care Act is making certain vital preventive services, such as mammograms, diabetes screening, and an annual wellness visit, available for seniors with Medicare.  Also, check out Go4Life, an exercise and physical activity campaign from the National Institute on Aging at NIH.

Throughout the year, and especially during Older Americans Month in May, we urge all Americans to appreciate and celebrate the vitality, aspirations, and achievements of elders and their contributions to society.

Get your blood pressure checked regularly

Do you or does someone you know have high blood pressure? Most likely, your answer is yes. More than one-third of adults in the United States have high blood pressure, and many don’t even know it. High blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease, the #1 killer worldwide, and many other diseases. That’s why it’s important to get your blood pressure checked regularly.

Medicare helps make checking your blood pressure easy. A blood pressure screening is covered in your “Welcome to Medicare” visit and your Yearly Wellness visit at no cost to you.

There are also many ways to prevent and help treat high blood pressure. Eating a healthy diet and avoiding sodium are easy ways to lower blood pressure. Maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active are also important. The surgeon general recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week. You can also check your blood pressure between your yearly visits for free at many pharmacies, senior centers, and health fairs.

May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month, watch our video to learn more.

Protect yourself from Hepatitis B

Did you know that 1.2 million people in the U.S. have chronic Hepatitis B, but many more people don’t know they’re infected because they have no symptoms? Hepatitis B is a contagious liver disease that can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious illness that can lead to liver disease or liver cancer.

Medicare can help keep you protected from Hepatitis B. 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 coverage. If you’re at high or medium risk for Hepatitis B, Medicare Part B will cover Hepatitis B shots for free.

Are you at risk for getting Hepatitis B? If you have hemophilia, End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD), diabetes, or certain conditions that lower your resistance to infection, you have a higher risk for getting Hepatitis B increases.  Additionally, if you have a profession that puts you in frequent contact with blood or bodily fluids, you may be at a higher risk.

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

Protect your bones—Medicare can help

Do you keep putting off exercise? You may be hurting your bones. Lack of exercise is one of the risk factors that can lead to osteoporosis. When people have osteoporosis their bones become less dense. You may not know that you have osteoporosis until your bones are so weak that a sudden strain, bump, or fall causes your wrist to break or your hip to fracture.

Medicare can help you prevent or detect osteoporosis at an early stage, when treatment works best. Talk to your doctor about getting a bone mass measurement—it may be free.

May is National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month. Learn more about what puts you at risk for osteoporosis and how to prevent or treat it at the National Osteoporosis Foundation or the Centers for Disease Control. Watch our short video to learn more about how Medicare can help you protect your bones.

Making complaints less complex

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?

If you have a concern or a problem that isn’t a request for coverage or reimbursement, you have the right to file a complaint. Not sure if you need to file a complaint or an appeal? Read some examples of situations where you might need to file a complaint.

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 assistance. You can also call your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) for free, personalized help filing a complaint.

Information you’ll need to have ready when you file a complaint: 

Basic information about you 

  • First and last name
  • Date of birth
  • State you live in
  • Zip code
  • Email address
  • Preferred call back time, phone number, and response language

Medicare card information 

  • Medicare number
  • Effective date

Health or drug plan information

  • Your health or drug plan name
  • Your health or drug plan contract ID

Complaint topic

  • Benefits
  • Prescription drugs
  • Services
  • Something else

 

2 tools Medicare offers that can help…

1. A Personal Health Record (PHR) is a record with information about your health that you, or someone helping you, can keep for easy reference using a computer. You control the health information in your PHR and can get to it anywhere, at any time, with Internet access.

2. The Blue Button tool provides you an easy way to download your personal health information to a file. You can download the file of your personal data and save the file on your own personal computer.  You can access the Blue Button through your account on MyMedicare.gov.

Nearly 3.5 million people saved more than $706 on prescriptions in 2012

By Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services

Posted March 21, 2013, Crossposted from healthcare.gov

In the three years since the Affordable Care Act became law, the slower growth of health care costs is saving money in Medicare and the private insurance market, helping to curb previously skyrocketing premiums and making Medicare stronger.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that Medicare and Medicaid spending would be 15 percent less — or about $200 billion— in 2020 than was previously projected, thanks to this slower growth. Medicare spending per beneficiary rose by just 0.4% in 2012, while Medicaid spending per beneficiary actually dropped by 1.9% last year. We are making Medicare stronger, too, by spending smarter, promoting coordinated care, and fighting fraud. Not only does this ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.  It means that those who count on Medicare — our grandparents, parents, our friends, and neighbors – will have it for years to come.

Today, we are announcing that thanks to the Affordable Care Act, more than 6.3 million seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare have saved more than $6.1 billion on prescription drugs since the health care law was enacted three years ago. This is the result of the law’s closing of the prescription coverage gap known as “the donut hole.”

Nearly 3.5 million people with Medicare saved an average of more than $706 each on their prescriptions in 2012.

In the case of Helen Rayon of Pennsylvania, the savings on her medications is enough to help her contribute to the education of her grandson. She says: “I take seven different medications. Getting the donut hole closed … gives me a little more money in my pocket.” Watch a video to learn more about Helen.

David Lutz, a community pharmacist from Hummelstown, PA, described his elderly customers, “splitting pills, taking doses every other day, missing doses, stretching their medications.”  But he says this has begun to change with the savings resulting from the Affordable Care Act, and that’s good for their health as well as their budgets.

After the law was passed, the Affordable Care Act provided a one-time $250 check for people with Medicare who reached the Part D prescription drug coverage gap in 2010. Since then, individuals in the donut hole have continued to receive savings on prescription drugs. In 2013 individuals in the donut hole are saving over 50% off of the cost of branded drugs. The savings on both brand name and generic drugs will continue to increase until the coverage gap is closed in 2020.

Along with savings on their medications, American seniors have also benefited from access to vital preventive services — such as mammograms, cholesterol checks, cancer screenings, and annual wellness visits — with no Part B coinsurance or deductibles. In 2012, more than 34 million seniors and people with disabilities with Medicare received at least one free preventive service. Having easier access to preventive services without worrying about the cost helps seniors stay healthier and identify health conditions before they become more serious and costly.

Helen works as a health-and-wellness coordinator at a senior center, arranging for health and fitness activities for seniors older than herself.  She knows they struggle with the costs of staying healthy. “If it weren’t for the health care reform, many of our seniors would not get to a doctor,” to get a check up, Helen says. “It is expensive for us to keep good health.”

Affordable Care Act initiatives are also ensuring that if Medicare beneficiaries do end up in the hospital that their care is coordinated and they stay out of the hospital once they’re discharged. This also gives Medicare beneficiaries – and other taxpayers – more value for their health care dollars. In fact, hospital readmissions in Medicare have fallen for the first time on record, resulting in 70,000 fewer readmissions in the last half of 2012.

The Affordable Care Act is helping us keep our moral commitment to ensure that our grandparents and other seniors get the high-quality, affordable health care and security they need and deserve.

To learn more about how the Affordable Care Act is saving seniors on prescription drug costs by closing the donut hole coverage gap, visit www.hhs.gov/news/press/2013pres/03/20130321a.html

Follow Secretary Sebelius on Twitter at @Sebelius.

This spring, put prevention into practice

The onset of spring is a reminder of new beginnings – the longer hours of daylight, sprouting tulips and warmer weather are all indicators of a new season, and a new reason to be proactive with your health.  One simple way to manage your health is to practice preventive care. Because preventive services can find health problems early, when treatment works best, it’s a crucial step in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Your Preventive Services with Medicare

If you have Medicare, then you have access to a variety of preventive tests and screenings, most at no cost to you. If you’re new to Medicare, your “Welcome to Medicare” preventive visit is now covered for free during your first 12 months of Part B coverage. This visit includes a review of your medical and social history related to your health and education and counseling about preventive services, including certain screenings, shots, and referrals for other care, if needed.

If you’ve had Part B for longer than 12 months, you can get a yearly wellness visit to develop or update a personalized prevention plan based on your current health and risk factors.  In addition to these important wellness visits, Medicare covers screening tests for diabetes, colon cancer, breast cancer, osteoporosis and heart disease, just to name a few.

So as you tend to your garden this spring, make a commitment to tend to yourself too. Practice preventive care to ensure you stay healthy, live longer, and delay or prevent many diseases.