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Free Medicare Tests Go Unused

April 27, 2011
Plain English Version

Seniors no longer have to pay for certain medical tests. Medicare offers free exams to help prevent or control cancer and other costly and painful diseases. These benefits are part of the new federal health-care law.

The free tests include mammograms and colonoscopies. Not many seniors are taking advantage of the tests. However, the free wellness checkups are being used.

Advocates say seniors do not know about the free benefits. Doctors are also confused about what tests are free and which patients are eligible. To make the program clear, the American Medical Association issued a two-page guide for doctors.

In 2008, co-payments were required for many of the tests and screenings that are now free. One study found:

  • Fewer than 4 percent took the free “Welcome to Medicare” physical exam.
  • Fewer than 10 percent tested that year for diabetes.
  • Only 36 to 41 percent of women received mammograms.
  • Only 12 to 15 percent of women got bone density tests.
  • Fewer than 20 percent of men received prostate cancer screenings.
  • Fewer than half got the free flu shot.

A list of free services is included in the “Medicare & You” handbook (available at www.medicare.gov or at 800-MEDICARE) It is a guide for Medicare beneficiaries. A 48-page Medicare guide on preventive benefits is also available online at www.medicare.gov.

The Washington Post



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