Get the Most Out of Your Medicare Plan

Updated: Aug. 24, 2011

In the past, just one in 16 people took advantage of the health checks free to people enrolled in Medicare

In the past, just one in 16 people took advantage of the health checks free to people enrolled in Medicare programs. By using these check-ups, vaccinations, training, supplies, and other services it is easier than ever to stay healthy. And the good news doesn’t stop there! Health care reform laws have expanded the freebie list. Here’s a snapshot of what’s available. If you’re in a Medicare Advantage Plan, check with your plan to see how many of these benefits are covered.

“Welcome to Medicare” physical exam
Free anytime during your first year on Original Medicare Part B and to most people with Medicare Advantage, this visit with your doctor checks your blood pressure, vision, weight, and height. It also includes a review of your health history, your current prescription drugs, screenings for dementia (memory loss) and depression, and a plan for keeping you healthy.

Annual wellness exam
Available to everyone who’s had Medicare Part B for more than 12 months, this yearly visit covers everything included at your “Welcome to Medicare” exam.

Bone density check
Covered every 24 months if you’re at risk for osteoporosis, the brittle-bones disease that is most prevalent among older women.

Heart-health tests
Free once every five years, blood checks of your levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, heart-threatening LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides help your doctor assess your heart health. If recommended by your doctor, a heart-function test called an electrocardiogram is also free.

Diabetes checks and support
Blood-sugar tests for diabetes are covered up to twice a year if you have risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or high blood sugar. If you have diabetes, you’re eligible for low-cost diabetes self-management classes and a price break on blood sugar testing equipment and supplies.

Cancer tests
Over 50 and on Medicare? You qualify for regular, low-cost colorectal screening checks that can actually prevent cancer, by spotting growths before they become cancers or when they’re in the earliest, most treatable stages. These tests range from a fecal occult blood test once a year to the gold standard, a screening colonoscopy, once every ten years. You’ll generally pay 20 to 25 percent of the Medicare-approved cost with no Part D deductible.

In addition, all women over age 40 on Medicare are eligible for a free mammogram once a year to check for breast cancer as well as a Pap test and pelvic exam every 12 or 24 months to check for cancers of the cervix and vagina. Men over 50 are eligible for two prostate-cancer checks: A free, annual Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test for prostate cancer as well as a low-cost annual digital rectal exam.

An annual flu shot, a one-time pneumococcal vaccine to protect against pneumonia (with boosters available after five years if you’re at high risk for pneumonia), and a series of vaccines against Hepatitis B if you’re at high risk for this disease are all covered for everyone with Medicare.

Other tests
Screenings are also available free or at low cost for items such as HIV infection or for those at higher-than-average risk for glaucoma due to diabetes, being of African-American descent, or having a family history of glaucoma.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest