AGING
March 26, 2011

Seniors Unaware of Free Health Services

Too many Medicare recipients are not taking advantage of the preventive health care services they are entitled to.

A report recently released by the CDC says that not enough seniors are availing themselves of preventive health care services that are readily available and covered by Medicare.

These services include vaccines against the flu, pneumonia and meningitis; screenings for cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol and osteoporosis; and help with quitting smoking. The report suggests that this is because many seniors either don't know what procedures are recommended for them, don't know what services are available or don't know that they're covered by Medicare.

From vans that offer blood pressure screenings to flu shots given at malls, these services can be found throughout most communities. They can even help those who don't have a personal physician. But right now, the onus is on seniors to find them. The CDC wants that to change.

It also suggests that the best way to change this is by more widespread promotion of these services in the media and by providing them in convenient locations, such as making flu shots available at polling places on Election Day.

While most seniors know of flu vaccines, many may not have heard of pneumonia vaccines, much less that it is recommended that all seniors get them. These vaccines are often available within the community. But this information often doesn't reach seniors or others who would benefit from getting the vaccine.

The report found that nearly half of all adults 65 or older had never received a pneumocoocal vaccine. The numbers were 50% for Hispanics, 47% for Blacks, Asians and Pacific Islanders and 36% for whites.

A similar situation exists for colorectal cancer screenings, which are also covered by Medicare. About 47% of Hispanics, 49% of Asians/Pacific Islanders and 34% of whites said they had never been screened.

Preventive health care is good medicine. It detects potential problems before they turn into real ones and stops minor conditions from escalating into major ones. Not only is this good for the patient, it's also good financially. It costs much less to treat minor problems than major ones.

Preventive health care doesn't have to come from the doctor's office. From vans that offer blood pressure screenings to flu shots given at malls, these services can be found throughout most communities. They can even help those who don't have a personal physician. But right now, the onus is on seniors to find them. The CDC wants that to change.

For now, seniors will just have to keep their eyes and ears open. Knowing that these services are out there in the community is a start.

The CDC released a summary of its findings in a press release on March 14, 2011. The full CDC report is also available.

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