If you're one of the 14 million Americans enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, you already know that your plan covers hospital stays, doctor visits and other major medical needs. But are you aware of the additional benefits and features that your plan offers?
Being familiar with your Medicare Advantage plan will not only help you maximize the value you are receiving in benefits, but, in many cases, it will also help you achieve better health and well-being.
Here are five important ways you can take "advantage" of your Medicare Advantage plan.
• Preventive Care: Medicare Advantage plans place a strong emphasis on preventive health care services that help keep you healthy, detect diseases at an early stage and avoid preventable illnesses. That's why we encourage you to schedule regular health screenings fully covered by your Medicare Advantage plans, as well as an annual medical exam. These screenings can help your doctor catch things early when they're easier to treat.
• Care Management: If you are living with a chronic condition, such as diabetes or heart disease, what educational programs and support does your plan offer? Some Medicare Advantage plans offer personalized, telephonic care management, health coaching, education and support provided by registered nurses and other health professionals. These plans also offer a toll-free help line where you can speak with a registered nurse about your health concerns anytime.
• Wellness Programs: Many Medicare Advantage programs offer fitness programs at no extra cost and, in some cases, even include a fitness center membership. Through your health plan you may also be eligible to participate in exercise classes specially designed for older adults.
• Immunizations: Flu and pneumonia shots are another important part of your covered preventive care, since people 65 and older are at greater risk of serious side-effects of these common illnesses. Because this year's flu season was one of the worst in recent years, make sure you are up to speed on your shots.
• Community and Financial Resources: If you have limited financial resources, you should be aware that there are plans available that provide extra services and lower plan costs for low-income beneficiaries, along with additional choices and benefits. If you qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid you may also be eligible for significant support and assistance from the government. If you're not sure, visit medicare.gov, or call 1-800-MEDICARE.
These are just some of the benefits and features that can help you maximize your Medicare Advantage coverage and improve your health and well-being. Be sure to take a look at your health plan today to make sure you're getting the most from your plan.
Electrocardiograms, better known as EKGs, made the Choosing Wisely list. The painless test is "done routinely during a physical, even when there is no sign of heart trouble," <em> <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/04/health/doctor-panels-urge-fewer-routine-tests.html">The New York Times</em> reports</a>.
These strong drugs prescribed for severe heartburn often make their way into the hands of of those with only a slight case of discomfort. "High doses of [proton pump inhibitors], and taking them for a year or longer, has been linked to an increased risk of bone fractures. Long-term use might also deplete magnesium blood levels, which, in turn, can trigger muscle spasms, irregular heartbeats, and convulsions," <a href="http://consumerhealthchoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/ChoosingWiselyHeartburnAGA2.pdf">Choosing Wisely reports</a>.
When it comes to lower back pain, doctors shouldn't use M.R.I.s within the first six weeks of a patient's complaints unless "red flags are present," <a href="http://choosingwisely.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/5things_12_factsheet_Amer_Acad_Fam_Phys.pdf"> according to the American Academy of Family Physicians</a>.
That flareup of sinusitis -- an inflammation of the sinuses -- probably doesn't need a round of antibiotics for treatment, the report found.
"Women older than 65 who have had several normal Pap tests can stop having the test," <a href="http://consumerhealthchoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/ChoosingWiselyPapTestsAAFP.pdf">according to Choosing Wisely</a>.
Now doctors are advised to not use this test "as a routine follow-up for mild, asymptomatic native valve disease in adult patients with no change in signs or symptoms," <a href="http://choosingwisely.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/5things_12_factsheet_Amer_Coll_Cardio.pdf">according to the Choose Wisely report</a>.
Getting imaging tests like CT scans for headaches are not terribly helpful. "Research shows that for people with a normal medical history and neurological exam, imaging tests are unlikely to reveal a more serious underlying problem," <a href="http://consumerhealthchoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/ChoosingWiselyHeadachesACR.pdf">according to the Choosing Wisely report</a>.
If you don't have a high risk for weak bones (70 years old for men and 65 for women), you may want to demur if your doctor recommends bone density imaging. The test can lead to a diagnosis of osteopenia, a condition with risky drug prescriptions that can lead to side effects such as thigh fractures and abnormal heart rhythms, <a href="http://consumerhealthchoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/ChoosingWiselyBoneDensityAAFP.pdf">the Choosing Wisely report found</a>.
Besides being expensive, an unnecessary exercise stress test "can produce inaccurate results that trigger follow-up tests that can pose risks," the report found.
While this form of testing can help colorectal cancer sufferers, doctors are now advised not to use it on breast cancer patients who are being treated with "curative intent." "False-positive tests can lead to harm through unnecessary invasive procedures, over-treatment, unnecessary radiation exposure, and misdiagnosis," <a href="http://choosingwisely.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/5things_12_factsheet_Amer_Soc_Clin_Onc.pdf">the report found</a>.
"Kidney disease doctors are urged not to start chronic dialysis before having a serious discussion with the patient and family," <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/04/health/doctor-panels-urge-fewer-routine-tests.html"><em>The New York Times</em> reports</a>.
"The American Gastroenterological Association is urging its physicians to prescribe the lowest doses of medication needed to control acid reflux disease," <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/04/health/doctor-panels-urge-fewer-routine-tests.html"><em>The New York Times</em> reports</a>.
If a patient isn't exhibiting any heart and lung disease symptoms, chest radiography should not be performed. "Preoperative chest radiography rarely provides any meaningful changes in management or improved patient outcomes," <a href="http://choosingwisely.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/5things_12_factsheet_Amer_College_Phys.pdf">the American College of Physicians found.</a>
For patients with neutropenia (a condition characterized by "<a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/neutropenia/MY00110">an abnormally low count of neutrophils</a>, white blood cells that help your immune system fight off infections"), doctors shouldn't inject white blood cell stimulating factor to stave off fever if they have a less than 20 percent risk for this complication.
Patients don't need to have a "repeat colorectal cancer screening (by any method) for 10 years after a high-quality colonoscopy is negative in average-risk individuals," <a href="http://choosingwisely.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/5things_12_factsheet_AGA.pdf" target="_hplink">advises the American Gastroenterological Association</a>.
If a patient with <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002128/">Barrett's esophagus</a>'s first endoscopy reveals zero signs of cell change, doctors should only use an endoscope once every three years, the report found. "If these cellular changes occur, they do so very slowly."