The Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, includes several benefits for Medicare beneficiaries including a Welcome to Medicare Wellness Visit.
This is not a substitute for a more extensive physicial exam but a way for your physician to ask some questions about your health and work with you to develop or update a plan to prevent disease.
I was reminded of this recently when my internet friend, Chuck Nyren, published a report at his Huffington Post blog (where he describes himself as “Writer, Gadfly, Troublemaker”) about his first wellness visit.
It was a good reminder to me to tell you about it but on second thought, why reinvent the wheel, I thought. Besides, Chuck is a funnier guy than I am and he gave me permission to reprint his story titled Welcome to Your Welcome to Medicare Visit. Here's Chuck.
I didn’t ask if it was mandatory when this lady called, I just said, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll do it.” A free exam of some sort because you’re now sixty-five was what she wanted me to schedule. I did.
She said it wouldn’t be with my doctor but with a health care professional. I was only half listening. “And the best part is you can spend a whole hour with her! Not like with your Provider where you’re only allowed fifteen minutes.”
My egoism got the better of me. A whole hour talking about me, and if I’m not talking about me the other person is talking about me. That sounded great.
On my way to the appointment I tried to think of things to talk about. My arthritic knees had been overly achy lately but for the last few days had been fine. Other than that, I felt pretty good. It was weird going to the doctor when there was nothing wrong with you.
A nurse called my name. I was weighed, had pounded up a bit over the winter. I’ll lose it. Blood pressure was high a tad, lungs and heart sounded good. She shook out an octopus array of wires and I had a quick EKG. Heart = Fine. The nurse left and I spent a few minutes yanking off the stickies from crannies on my torso I never knew existed.
Marlene knocked and entered. “Welcome to your Welcome To Medicare Wellness Exam!”
“Thanks!” I said. I was chipper. She was chipper. We were chipper.
“Over the weekend I spent some time looking over your medical history,” she said.
“So that’s why my ears were burning!”
She readied herself to type. “Is there something wrong with your ears?”
“Ummm, no. A little wax, maybe.”
She typed something.
After documenting the faux affliction, we got to the real ones. I’d had some issues over the last few years, mostly one-offs like an episode of gout, shingles, a fainting spell (documented here on Huffington Post), some panic attacks years ago that still ambush me every so often.
The rest were namby-pamby boring stuff — none worthy of even a mention in a TV medical drama. A kidney stone fifteen years ago, psoriasis on and off. With every affliction mentioned, she typed and typed.
“It says you have cancer in your family.”
“Yes. Here and there.”
“Any family history of heart problems?”
“Diabetes?”“A brother and a grandmother. You probably see there that I took a bunch of blood tests a few months ago and everything was normal except my triglycerides were a bit high.”
We went through my medications. “Do you still take Cialis?”
“...Sure, when needed. Although I don’t really need it. If I take it it’s only a nick off the pill to counteract the very small, daily dose of Zoloft. If a hotsy-totsy night is planned, it just makes things a lot easier for, you know...everyone involved.”
She typed something.
There was talk about my thyroid. This was the first I’d heard of it. (A blood test was ordered, the next day it came back in the normal range.)
We said our goodbyes and I was out the door with a few pages of hard-copy in my hand. I imagined it read, You’re fine, go home.
I don’t remember exactly where I was when I actually looked at the first page — either outside the car and about to open the door or already in the driver’s seat. It’s all a blur now. Manually highlighted in blinding yellow was this list:
You Were Seen Today For
• History of Adenomatous Polyp of Colon
• Spondylosis Lumbosacral Region, unspecified spinal osteoarthritis complication
• BMI 32.0-32.9, adult
• Thyroid Mass of Unclear Etiology
• Anxiety Disorder
• ED (erectile dysfunction)
• Essential Hypertension
• Cerumen Impaction
• Risk for falls
• History of Nephrolithiasis
I have no memory of driving home. I’m surprised I made it home at all because I’m obviously dying.
That was a week ago, and I’m still miraculously hanging on. I’m afraid to move, to breathe. If I do either, it’s done cautiously. Any wrong move might kick in one of my conditions, and I’ll kick.
I walk into the doctor’s office with bad knees. I walk out with a Death Sentence.
My new take on medical visits: Fifteen minutes is much too long. Who knows what could happen during such an excruciating amount of time. From now on I want my appointments to be no more than thirty seconds, maybe less. They’d go something like this:
Doctor walks in. “What’s wrong?”
“Open and say “Aahhh.”
“I’ll write up a prescription and you can pick it up at the front desk. ‘Bye.”
The less I know, the healthier I’ll feel.
Ronni here again. I'm pretty well in sync with Chuck about how to deal with doctor's visits but there is a serious point to this too – that you should take advantage of these free wellness visits.
Anyone with Medicare Part B is eligible. It is free to almost everyone as long as your physician accepts assignment, and the Part B deductible does not apply although if the doctor orders tests not approved for the visit, you may owe a co-pay.
The Welcome to Medicare Visit can be done anytime during the first 12 months after you've joined the program. You do not need to have done the Welcome Visit to take advantage of the annual wellness visit.
There is more information about both visits – which are not the same thing as more extensive physical examinations – at medicare.gov.
UPDATE: A reminder for all medical/health posts. In the comments you may not recommend any specific kind healthcare, treatment, physician, medication, etc. or link to any website related to those areas or to any commercial product.