There’s a reason health insurance companies not only cover but actively encourage annual wellness visits: they work.
Your annual wellness visit represents the front lines of preventive care. This is where your doctor discovers the early signs of a host of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Treating these issues in the early stages is far easier than waiting until they’ve taken hold and caused real damage.
Preventive Care and the Affordable Care Act
The value of preventive care is fully recognized by the people behind the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Provisions within ACA require insurers to provide a wide variety of preventive services without the patient being charged any type of cost-sharing fees, including deductibles and copayments. This includes services as varied as well-woman visits, such as yearly Pap smears and mammograms, and screening and counseling for domestic violence.
ACA extends these guidelines to Medicare providers, as well, requiring coverage of preventive care free of cost-sharing.
Why Annual Wellness Check-up is Important
There’s an old saying: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Insurance providers recognize the truth in this. Even though they’re part of the healthcare industry, health insurance companies are still businesses. That means they focus on profits and expenses just as much as they do the health of their customers. So, the fact that insurers willingly cover the expense of preventive care should make it obvious that that old saying is more than a cliché; it’s true.
Your annual wellness visit provides the perfect opportunity to discover health issues before damage becomes extensive, and therefore more difficult to treat. For example, high blood pressure left untreated damages more than your heart. It also affects your arteries, brain, eyesight, and kidneys, and even leads to sexual dysfunction and bone loss. What’s more, it may be quietly inflicting this damage for years without you ever experiencing any noticeable symptoms. However, your annual wellness visit lets your doctor discover high blood pressure early, before it wreaks this kind of havoc on your body.
Cancer screens also help ensure that the disease is caught early, before it has a chance to metastasize. This not only makes treatment easier, it dramatically improves the patient’s chances in beating a cancer diagnosis. Your annual mammogram, Pap smear, and prostate exam may not be pleasant, but they sure beat the alternative.
This leads us to the benefits specific to you. Preventive care, including leading a healthy, active lifestyle, helps keep you free from pain, increases energy levels, improves sleep, alleviates issues such as depression, and improves cognitive function. It also saves you money on treatment. That’s a lot of wins.
What is Included in an Annual Wellness Visit?
Your annual wellness visit starts with your vitals. Your doctor checks your height, weight, and blood pressure, and then takes the time to talk with you, asking a variety of lifestyle questions and performing a depression screening.
Based on your weight and blood pressure, as well as any issues discovered during your examination, your physician orders blood work, commonly screening for diabetes, cholesterol, and pre-diabetes.
Your doctor will also make recommendations regarding diet and activity levels, advise on other lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation, and may prescribe medications if your examination determines there is a need. All of this information enters your medical record. During the following year’s wellness visit, results are compared to those of previous years.
Common Preventive Screenings
In addition to your annual wellness visit, your doctor may recommend numerous beneficial preventive screenings. Many insurers approve cost-free access to these screenings, as they are proven effective at early diagnosis for chronic diseases and cancers. How frequently screenings are covered depends on your level of risk, the insurer, and the particular test.
- Alcohol screening and/or counseling: Screening helps determine whether the patient has a drinking problem and may include counseling sessions (depending on the insurer)
- Bone density: Helps identify osteoporosis and risk for broken bones
- Cardiovascular screening: Checks your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke
- Colon cancer screening: Looks for growths and polyps in the colon, allowing removal before the growth becomes cancerous
- Depression screening: Depression goes undiagnosed for many people, and leads to numerous health issues
- Diabetes screenings: Millions of people do not realize they have diabetes, which causes a wide variety of health problems
- Mammography: Yearly mammograms help early diagnosis of breast cancer, the second most common cancer in American women
- Obesity screening and/or counseling: Numerous chronic conditions are either caused by or exacerbated by obesity
- Pap tests and pelvic exams: Help diagnose cervical and vaginal cancers
- Prostate screening: Includes a rectal exam and blood test to detect prostate cancer, the leading cancer among American men
Check with your insurance company to determine what it covers. Medicare covers each of the above tests, but not all insurers offer the same coverage.
Preventive Care for Your Bottom Line
For many people, the future health benefits of preventive care are too intangible to serve as inspiration. If you are unable to see how your overall health and quality of life benefits from a healthy diet, active lifestyle, annual wellness visits, and preventive screenings, you may be persuaded by the cost savings.
As treating health issues is so much easier in their early stages, the cost to do so is much lower. The medical expenses involved in fighting later stages of cancer or advanced stages of heart disease are substantial and often exceed insurance coverage. For a small co-pay – or even no co-pay – you may prevent more than disease. You may also prevent tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills.