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What free preventive services does Medicare offer?

Medicare preventive exam

The recently passed health reform law included several ounces of prevention for Medicare beneficiaries: free wellness exams plus a range of tests, from mammograms and colonoscopies to glaucoma screenings. Other preventive benefits include flu shots and smoking cessation counseling.

It’s not often you can get something for nothing. But the authors of the federal health reform package believed that it’s cheaper to prevent illness than to treat it, so they added to Medicare free mammograms, colonoscopies and other preventive services, starting last September.

Read about other changes for Medicare beneficiaries under the health reform law.

Many of these tests and medical services used to require a co-payment from the patient, but not anymore. Here’s a list of the freebies. (Find more details in the Medicare & You Handbook. The publications should have arrived in the mail when you first signed up for Medicare.)

In some cases, you’ll pay a copay for the doctor visit but don’t pay for the test itself. In any case, check ahead of time to be sure your doctor will accept the Medicare payment for the test.

Wellness visits

  • “Welcome to Medicare” physical exam – A one-time review of your health, education and counseling about preventive services, and referrals for other care if needed. Be sure to get it within 12 months of signing up for Medicare Part B.
  • Yearly “wellness” exam – 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.

Free tests, no copay

  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening, a one-time screening for people at risk. Get a referral during your initial Medicare wellness exam.
  • Bone mass measurement, or bone density test, which you can get every two years.
  • Flu shots.
  • Hepatitis B shots, if you are at medium or high risk.
  • Colorectal cancer screening, which may involve a fecal occult blood test, colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy and/or barium enema. Copay for doctor visit applies to the blood test and enema.
  • Mammogram each year.
  • Pap test and pelvic exam (including clinical breast exam) every two years, or more often if at high risk.
  • Pneumococcal shot.
  • Smoking cessation counseling is free if you don’t have an illness caused or complicated by tobacco use. If you have been diagnosed with one, you pay a copayment and deductible.

Free test, but with a copay for the doctor’s visit

  • Cardiovascular screenings to check for risk of heart attack stroke.
  • Diabetes screening.
  • Glaucoma test if you are at risk
  • HIV screening
  • Prostate cancer screening, including digital rectal exam and PSA test once a year.