The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a new report Monday showing that more than 5 million Americans with traditional Medicare — or nearly one in six people with Medicare — took advantage of one or more of the recommended free preventive benefits.

According to the report, the most used free benefits were mammograms, bone-density screenings and screenings for prostate cancer. 

“It’s important to get the tests which can spot a serious illness early when it can be best treated,” said Dr. Donald Berwick, CMS administrator. “These preventive screenings are critical, and we want physicians to take this opportunity to help their older patients understand how necessary they are.”

In 2011, Medicare began covering an Annual Wellness Visit at no cost to Medicare beneficiaries. According to the report, more than 780,000 beneficiaries received an Annual Wellness Visit between Jan. 1 and June 10. In addition, more seniors have used the Welcome to Medicare Exam this year —  66,302 beneficiaries had taken advantage of the benefit by the end of May 2011, compared to 52,654 beneficiaries at the same point in 2010.

Also on Monday, Medicare launched a nationwide public outreach campaign, including a letter to doctors and a new public service announcement to raise awareness about all of the preventive benefits now covered at no charge to patients, including the new Annual Wellness Visit benefit created by the Affordable Care Act.  

A renewed push toward prevention is the latest step toward CMS’s fulfillment of its “Three-Part Aim”: Better care and better health at lower cost through improvement in health care.  Roughly 70 percent of Medicare beneficiaries had at least one chronic condition in 2008, while as many as 38 percent had between two and four chronic conditions, and 7 percent had five or more.  They see an average of 14 different doctors and fill an average of 50 prescriptions or prescription refills a year. Preventing chronic disease among the Medicare population would not only improve their health and quality of life, it could help save an estimated two-thirds of the $2 trillion the U.S. spends treating preventable long-term illness today.

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