Start this spring right by practicing prevention

After months of blizzards and cold weather, spring is a welcome reminder of new beginnings – the longer hours of daylight, blooming flowers, and warmer weather are all signs 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. Preventive services can help prevent you from getting sick and find health problems early, when treatment works best, so taking advantage of them is a crucial step in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

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, we cover a “Welcome to Medicare” preventive visit 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, heart disease, and obesity management, just to name a few. Check out our complete list of Medicare-covered preventive services.

So as you tend to your garden this spring, make a commitment to tend to yourself too. Practice preventive care so you can you stay healthy and live longer.

Make 2016 your year of better nutrition

They say “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but that’s not the whole truth. While apples are healthy and delicious, there are many other important factors in having a nutritious diet.

Over 35% of U.S. adults are obese. An unhealthy body weight puts you at a greater risk for many diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer. However, a healthy diet and exercise can help you lower these risks and better your overall health. Not sure how to get started? Medicare can help.

Medicare covers 15-minute face-to-face individual behavioral therapy sessions and 30-minute face-to-face group behavioral counseling sessions to help you lose weight if you have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. Find out if you qualify for this service.

The Million Hearts® Healthy Eating & Lifestyle Resource Center can be a good resource in starting or maintaining a healthy diet. Million Hearts© is a national initiative to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. The resource center was developed in partnership with EatingWell magazine and features calorie-controlled, heart-healthy recipes for you and your family.

Planning and understanding your diet can help you stay on track. Visit the SuperTracker on ChooseMyPlate.gov to help you plan, analyze, and track your diet and physical activity.

Next time you reach for that apple, remember all the things you can do to become a healthier you.

Get help with your Medicare costs

If you’re among the many Americans facing financial challenges with their health care costs, there may be ways you can save money on your health care costs if you have Medicare.

If you have limited income and resources, you may qualify for Medicaid—a joint federal and state program that helps with medical costs. Even if you don’t qualify for Medicaid, there are other programs that may help you pay for your Medicare premiums and other costs.

Medicare has 4 savings programs that may help with your health care costs:

  1. Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB) Program
  2. Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary (SLMB) Program
  3. Qualifying Individual (QI) Program
  4. Qualified Disabled and Working Individuals (QDWI) Program

If you qualify for Medicaid or one of the Medicare Savings Programs above, you’ll also get Extra Help paying for your prescription drugs automatically. Extra Help is a Medicare program that helps people with limited income or resources pay Medicare prescription drug costs, like premiums, deductibles and coinsurance. If you don’t automatically qualify Extra Help, you can apply online at SSA.gov.

It’s important to call or fill out an application if you think you could qualify for savings—even if your income or resources are higher than the amounts listed on Medicare.gov. These amounts change yearly, and there may be another savings program you are eligible for depending on your specific situation. To find out if you are eligible for savings through one of these programs, call your state Medicaid program. Also, watch our video to find out more ways you can save money on your Medicare coverage.

This Valentine’s Day, show your heart some love

Although popular love songs might tell you otherwise, a broken heart can’t kill you—but heart disease can. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women, taking more than 600,000 lives each year.

You might not be able to avoid Cupid’s arrow, but you can take steps to lower your risks and prevent heart disease. Start by scheduling an appointment with your doctor to discuss whether you’re at risk for heart disease.

Medicare covers a cardiovascular disease screening at no cost to you every 5 years. The screening includes tests to help detect heart disease early and measures cholesterol, blood fat (lipids), and triglyceride levels.

If you and your doctor discover that you’re at risk for a heart attack or stroke, there are steps you can take to help prevent these conditions. You might be able to make lifestyle changes (like changing your diet and increasing your activity level or exercising more often) to lower your cholesterol and stay healthy.

February is American Heart month, so start it off right by visiting the Million Hearts® Healthy Eating & Lifestyle Resource Center. Million Hearts is a national initiative to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. The resource center was developed in partnership with EatingWell magazine, and features lower sodium, heart-healthy recipes and family-friendly meal plans to help manage sodium intake, a major contributor to high blood pressure and heart disease. All the recipes include nutritional facts and average cost per serving information. Use the search and filter options to quickly find the right meal for yourself and your family based on prep time, cuisine, course, number of servings, and your health needs.

Choosing a home health agency keeps getting easier

Choosing a provider of home health services can be overwhelming. Home health agencies can differ in the safety and quality of care they provide. That’s why we’ve made it easier to use the information on our Home Health Compare site by adding patient experience of care star ratings. Known as Home Health Care Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HHCAHPS) Survey star ratings, these ratings summarize, in a consumer-friendly format, patients’ experiences with different home health agencies.

Compare websites are a valuable source of information about the quality of health care furnished by providers and facilities. Previously, you could select multiple agencies at a time on Home Health Compare to compare agency performance on individual HHCAHPS items, like how often the home health team delivered care in a professional way. You could also access summary Quality of Patient Care star ratings for each agency. With today’s addition of the HHCAHPS Survey star ratings, now you can compare summarized, easy-to-understand information on patients’ experiences with these agencies by viewing the following HHCAHPS Survey star ratings:

  1. Care of patients
  2. Communication between providers and patients
  3. Specific care issues
  4. Overall rating of care provided by the Home Health Agency
  5. Survey summary star rating

The HHCAHPS Survey Star Ratings report patients’ experiences of care ranging from 1 star to 5 stars using data from patients (or the family or friends of patients) that have been treated by the agency. Out of over 11, 000 agencies with data on Home Health Compare, you’ll find more than 6,000 agencies with patient survey star ratings data.

Sharing patients’ experience of care through star ratings is just one example of how we’re committed to helping you make health care decisions based upon available information. Learn more about the HHCAHPS Survey.

Detect cervical cancer early – get screened

All women are at risk for cervical cancer, but did you know it occurs most often in women over 30? About 12,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year. Fortunately, it’s one of the easiest female cancers to prevent. Medicare covers 2 types of screening tests – the Pap smear and human papilloma virus (HPV) test – that can help prevent cervical cancer, or find it early when treatment can work best.

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. Watch our Cervical Health Awareness Month video and visit our cervical & vaginal cancer screenings page to learn what these tests do and how often they’re covered.

Also, visit the National Cervical Cancer Coalition website to find ways you can raise awareness about cervical cancer and how you can make a difference.

Prevent vision loss from glaucoma

How much are you at risk for getting glaucoma? Glaucoma is an eye disease that causes loss of vision—usually side vision—by damaging the optic nerve, which sends information from your eyes to your brain.

Fortunately, you can prevent vision loss by finding and treating problems early. Medicare covers a glaucoma test once every 12 months for people at high risk for glaucoma, including people who answer “yes” to one or more of these questions:

  • Do you have diabetes or a family history of glaucoma?
  • Are you African American and 50 or older?
  • Are you Hispanic American and 65 or older?

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. The start of a new year is the perfect time to schedule a regular eye exam to check for glaucoma.

Visit Medicare.gov to find more information on Medicare’s glaucoma screening coverage, or watch our glaucoma awareness video. Also, visit the Prevent Blindness website to see how you can join the ongoing fight against vision loss.