Outreach Campaign Could Lead to Surge of Patients Seeking Preventive Services

July 13, 2011 05:25 pm James Arvantes Washington –

A multimedia campaign recently launched by CMS to make Medicare patients aware of free preventive services available to them because of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act could spur a dramatic increase in the number of Medicare beneficiaries seeking preventive services from physician offices.

During a recent press conference, CMS Administrator Donald Berwick, M.D., said he expects a new multimedia awareness campaign about preventive services covered by the Patient Protection and Accountable Care Act to increase the number of patients seeking health care.

The Affordable Care Act eliminated Part B coinsurance and deductibles for recommended preventive services as of Jan. 1. In addition, it added an annual wellness visit at no cost to beneficiaries. According to CMS Administrator Donald Berwick, M.D., the free wellness visit builds on the benefits of the initial one-time-only preventive physical examination, or "Welcome to Medicare" visit, by providing an annual visit during which physicians and patients can develop and update a personalized health care plan that considers preventive services and additional services appropriate to a patient's individual needs.

About 5.5 million people with traditional Medicare have used one or more of the new preventive benefits, according to CMS(www.cms.gov). But the Share the News. Share the Health campaign(www.medicare.gov), which is aimed at the total Medicare population of 33 million, could create a surge in demand for physician services.

"Even in your 70s, 80s, or beyond, you can reduce your risk of disability and chronic illness if you take care of yourself," said Berwick during a June 20 press conference here. "With the new free annual wellness visits and free preventive care, people with Medicare have the tools to take common-sense steps to take control of their health.

"Further, it's important to get the tests which can spot a serious illness early, when it can be best treated. These preventive screenings are critical, and we want physicians to take this opportunity to help their older patients understand how necessary they are."

Story Highlights

  • CMS has launched a campaign to make Medicare patients aware of the free preventive services they are entitled to now because of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
  • Family physicians need to be aware that the campaign could create a surge in the number of patients looking for these preventive services.
  • It is important that physicians take this opportunity to discuss preventive services, particularly with their older Medicare patients.

"We would certainly welcome any increase in numbers (of patients), and if they are more than we can deal with, that is a good issue, not a bad issue," said AAFP President Roland Goertz, M.D., M.B.A., of Waco, Texas, downplaying concerns that a surge in patients could overwhelm family physicians.

"I think a push for preventive services that, in turn, highlights the importance of healthy living and the prevention of potential illness is long overdue," he noted. "All family physicians and other primary care physicians in the country welcome an increase in the number of patients we see who have a keen personal interest in making sure they stay healthy."

The campaign will include public service announcements on radio and television, as well as an online advertising campaign on the Medicare.gov website(www.medicare.gov). HHS also will distribute posters and collateral materials to senior centers, retirement communities and other places where older adults gather.

According to Berwick, the campaign and the benefits included represent one part of an overall strategy by the federal government to fundamentally shift the focus of health care from an acute care model to a preventive paradigm.

"We are not just lecturing people here about the power of prevention, saying these services can save your life," said Berwick. "We are cutting cost-sharing and providing services for free."

Goertz describes preventive services such as those outlined in the campaign as "one of the core issues" of family medicine. "This is what we have been talking about for years," he said. "We need to have much more awareness of prevention of illness and health promotion."