Choosing a health care professional just got easier

Are you the kind of shopper who gathers information before making a purchase? Wouldn’t it be helpful to have the same kind of reliable information when choosing a health care professional?

Choosing a health care professional can be overwhelming. Physicians and facilities differ in the quality of care they provide. That’s why we’ve made it easier to use the information on our Physician Compare site by adding quality measures for group practices and, for the first time, individual health care professionals.

Compare websites are a valuable source of information about the quality of health care professionals and facilities. The new quality measures added to Physician Compare focus on the quality of care provided by Medicare physicians and other health care professionals, and include information like:

  • How well a group practice or individual health care professional provides some types of care to people with Medicare
  • Patients’ experiences with some physician group practices

Physician Compare includes a performance score for each measure, which is shown as stars and a percent. Each star represents 20%. The stars show how each group practice or individual health care professional performs on things like:

  • Getting flu or pneumonia shots
  • Screening for conditions like unhealthy weight, depression, high blood pressure, breast cancer, or colon or rectum cancer
  • Getting timely care, appointments, and information
  • Comparing new and old prescription medications
  • Communicating about your health care

The stars convey quality, so more stars are better. While the stars on Physician Compare aren’t used to rate or rank one group or individual health care professional compared to another, you can use the stars to evaluate the quality of care based on the measures that are important to you.

Physician Compare is designed to help you make informed health care decisions. We plan to continue to increase the number of quality measures on Physician Compare and include more tools to help you best understand and use this information. In 2017, we’re adding a 5-star quality rating based on a benchmark for each measure. This will allow you to more easily compare performance between groups and between individual health care professionals.

Get your free flu shot

Flu season is in full swing, so protect yourself and your loved ones by getting your free flu shot.

Get your flu shot early and stay healthy! Flu viruses change from year to year, so it’s important to get a flu shot each flu season. It’s free for people with Medicare, once per flu season when you get it by doctors or other health care providers (like senior centers and pharmacies) that take Medicare.

National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW) is December 6–12. Celebrate by getting your free flu shot today.

Support World AIDS Day: Wear your red ribbon

About 50,000 people in the U.S. get HIV each year. Of the 1.1 million people currently living with HIV in the U.S., 1 in 8 don’t even know they have it. December 1 is World AIDS Day and the 2015 theme is “The Time to Act Is Now.”

HIV is the virus that can lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. Early testing and diagnosis play key roles in reducing the spread of the disease, extending life expectancy, and cutting costs of care. 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. However, thanks to better treatments, many people with HIV and AIDS in the U.S. are living longer. Testing is an important first step in getting HIV-infected people the medical care and support they need to improve their health and help them maintain safer behaviors.

Medicare covers HIV screening for people with Medicare of any age who ask for the test, pregnant women, and people at increased risk for the infection (like gay and bisexual men, injection drug users, or people with multiple sexual partners).

Visit Aids.gov to learn more about World AIDS Day and CDC.gov to learn more about their Act Against AIDS campaign.

To find an HIV test site, visit HIVtest.cdc.gov or text your zip code to “KNOWIT” (566948).

Medicare Open Enrollment: Time is running out!

It’s the holiday season and it seems like to-do lists are always pretty packed around this time of year. With family and job responsibilities, some pretty important tasks can get left to the last minute.

Picking the right health plan is a personal choice and a lot of thoughtful consideration goes into finding the right match. If you haven’t made up your mind yet, now is the time to make your selection. Medicare Open Enrollment ends December 7. Time is running out, but just because we’re near the deadline, doesn’t mean the task is any less important.

To help you sort through your choices, try using the Medicare Plan Finder. You can review the plan options in your area and decide the best mix of benefits and costs that meets your needs and budget.

In these last few days of Medicare Open Enrollment, take a second to review your health care coverage and see if you need to make any changes for next year. If you decide you’re happy with the plan you have now, and the plan’s still being offered next year, you don’t need to do anything. But if you’re thinking about making any changes, now’s the time to act so you can cross another item off your to-do list.

Make today the day you quit smoking

Smoking tobacco can cause many diseases including heart disease, respiratory diseases, and lung cancer —the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. Over 56 million people in the U.S. still smoke tobacco, but quitting can reduce your risk of getting these diseases. You can quit smoking today, and Medicare is here to help.

Besides being famous for Thanksgiving, November is also Lung Cancer Awareness Month and the Great American Smokeout. While you’re making lists for the upcoming holiday season, make a note to talk with your doctor about quitting if you smoke. Medicare covers 8 face-to-face smoking cessation counseling sessions during a 12-month period. If you haven’t been diagnosed with an illness caused or complicated by tobacco use, you pay nothing for these counseling sessions, as long as you get them from a qualified doctor or another Medicare provider. Watch our video to learn more about Medicare’s benefits to help you quit.

Save time with automatic payments

We like when things are automatic. From smart phone reminders to automatic coffee makers—it’s nice when something’s done before we even need to think about doing it. Whether you’ve already picked a new plan for 2016, or decided to keep the plan you had in 2015, one thing you might not have thought about is paying the monthly premium. Did you know that you can have this premium automatically deducted from your monthly Social Security payment?

Most Medicare Prescription Drug Plans charge a monthly fee that varies by plan. You pay this in addition to the Medicare Part B premium. It’s important to pay this premium on time to keep your coverage and the peace of mind that comes with it.

All you need to do is contact your drug plan (not Social Security). Your first deduction will usually take 3 months to start, and 3 months of premiums will likely be deducted at once. After that, only one premium will be deducted each month. You may also see a delay in premiums being withheld if you switch plans. If you want to stop premium deductions and get billed directly, just let your plan know.

Take the worry and guesswork out of when to pay your premium bills, and contact your plan today. Rest assured knowing that your payments will be sent as scheduled—on time, every time.

Get smart: Know when to use antibiotics

It’s that time of year again—flu season! But if you get sick, think twice before going to your doctor for antibiotics. If you get a cold or flu, antibiotics won’t help. That’s because these are viral infections, and antibiotics only cure bacterial infections. Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them can be harmful. Every time you take antibiotics, they kill sensitive bacteria, but resistant germs may survive to grow and multiply. These resistant germs can lead to severe infections, hospitalizations, and death—especially among people over 65.

The CDC has marked this week as Get Smart About Antibiotics Week. Here are 3 things you can do to make sure you’re using antibiotics the right way:

  1. Take antibiotics only to treat true bacterial infections. It should be for only as long as your doctor prescribed to treat the infection, to reduce your risk of getting the infection again, or to reduce the risk to those around you.
  2. Always talk to your doctor before taking an antibiotic to be sure it will treat the infection you have.
  3. Never take antibiotics for a viral infection, like a cold, cough, or flu. Antibiotics won’t cure your virus, they won’t keep those around you from getting sick, and they won’t help you feel better. In fact, taking antibiotics when you have a virus may do you more harm than good, because you increase your risk of getting an antibiotic-resistant infection later.

Antibiotics won’t help you recover from the flu, but you can keep yourself from catching the major flu viruses in the first place by getting your flu shot! It’s free for people with Medicare, once per flu season when given by doctors or other health care providers (like senior centers and pharmacies) that take Medicare.