MONDAY, June 20 (HealthDay News) -- More than 5 million
Americans with Medicare have already taken advantage of the
preventive benefits added by the passage of health care reform,
U.S. health officials said Monday.
In addition, Medicare has launched a new program to increase
awareness of these new benefits to all Medicare recipients.
"The most effective way, and the most cost-effective way of keeping people healthy is by preventing illness before it occurs. We are making it easier for people in Medicare to get preventive care," Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said during a morning press conference.
The agency believes that any spending on prevention will more
than pay for itself long term.
But not everyone agrees that the initiative will be a
cost-saver, and some argue that spending millions on preventive
services will simply add to the national debt -- without reducing
the overall cost for health care.
According to a new Medicare report, over 5.5 million people who
have traditional Medicare have already used the new preventive
benefits, which include mammograms, bone density tests and
screenings for prostate cancer.
These and other preventative services are now available for free
to Medicare recipients, with no co-payments or deductibles. In
addition, Medicare patients are eligible for an annual "wellness
visit" at no charge.
As part of the wellness visit, doctors will review the patient's
health and recommend a "personalized wellness plan." So far, more
than 780,000 Medicare recipients have had such visits, according to
Medicare is pushing these preventive care options to help cut
the overall cost of health care, Sebelius said.
According to the agency, 70 percent of Medicare patients have at
least one chronic health condition and 38 percent have two to four
chronic conditions. Providing more preventative care will not just
improve patients' health and save lives, but could save about
two-thirds of the $2 trillion spent treating preventable chronic
illness, the agency said.
"Seventy-five percent of our health care costs are for the treatment of chronic illnesses," Dr. Donald Berwick, administrator of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said during the press conference. "Many of them can be prevented and more of them can have a more favorable outcome," he said.
"We need a fundamental shift in how we think about health care. We need to move toward investing in healthy behaviors," Berwick added.
"Having to pay for preventive screening keeps people from getting them," Berwick said. "We are making it possible for anyone to have these preventive services."
But not everyone agrees that the initiative will save money.
Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at the
libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., said the
preventive-care subsidies now offered by what he called
"Obama-care" are "not free. They are costing taxpayers dearly by
adding to America's $14 trillion national debt."
Supporters of the policy claim that more preventive care will
reduce health care spending, "but medical research shows that it
will not," he said. "If the $250 checks that Obama-care sent to
millions of Medicare enrollees didn't make the law popular among
seniors, I doubt these preventive-care subsidies will," Cannon
Another critic is Devon Herrick, a senior fellow at the National
Center for Policy Analysis, a Dallas-based think tank that argues
for free market solutions to issues surrounding health care.
He said that "on the one hand preventive services are good
because you will extend lives and save lives. But people often make
the mistake thinking that 'if we just do more of this we will save
a lot of money of future care.' It doesn't really work that
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