HHS delivers preventive benefits to seniors

February 7, 2005

We spend too much on curative care and not enough on preventive care. Treating disease is one thing; preventing it is even better."

We spend too much on curative care and not enough on preventive care. Treating disease is one thing; preventing it is even better."

This was the message conveyed by Health & Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson at a recent press conference in Washington, D.C. The conference kicked off a campaign to alert seniors to the availability of new Medicare preventive care benefits, which became effective Jan. 1, 2005. The benefits include a one-time "Welcome to Medicare" physical exam, a diabetes screening, and a cardiovascular screening.

"The Medicare system spends well over 95% of its dollars waiting for you to get sick and then treating you," Thomson said. "We want to make sure that we start treating you early so that you can live with good health in your senior years. We want to shift the focus of our entire healthcare system from treating disease to preventing disease. It is commonsense medicine that is rooted in healthier choices and better preventive screenings. It is smarter and, more important, it is cost-effective and will help Americans live longer, fuller, and better lives," he said. Medicare already covers screenings-for bones; glaucoma; colon, breast, cervical, and prostate cancer; and it recently announced its intention to cover smoking cessation counseling for beneficiaries who have smoking-related diseases.

The campaign, which includes a booklet for seniors, is designed to help maximize attention to Medicare's new benefits and to help seniors use them.

Mark McClellan, M.D., Ph.D., CMS administrator, was also on hand at the conference. He said Medicare's new preventive benefits match the expert recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the evidence-based recommendations of other expert groups. "We need to work together to close the prevention gap-the difference between the expert recommendations for preventive service and the actual use of prevention-oriented medicine. Right now that gap is very large and the consequences are great."

Acknowledging that many people are afraid of what the screenings may reveal, McClellan advised, "We know more now than we ever have before about what we can do if one of the screenings turns up positive. Twentieth-century medicine is more about working together to prevent complications. A few minutes of your time might help save your life. When seniors use services that help find and treat illnesses before they lead to serious problems, we all win."

For further information, visit http://www.medicare.gov/ or call (800) MEDICARE.