Medicare Will Soon Make Prevention Easier, But Exercise Will Be Up To You

Partner content from Kaiser Health News

Medicare could be around much longer than previously feared, thanks to savings expected under the new federal health law.

Woman exercises at fitness center for seniors

Staying fit is part of the prevention prescription.  A woman works out at the Hattie Holmes Wellness Center in Washington, D.C. Jessica Marcy/Kaiser Healt h News hide caption

itoggle caption Jessica Marcy/Kaiser Healt h News

And the law could help keep some Medicare recipients, including a wave of baby boomers who'll soon be eligible for coverage, stick around longer, too.

Starting in January of next year, Medicare beneficiaries will begin to receive many preventive screenings and services free — no copayment or coinsurance required.

They’ll also get a free annual wellness visit with their doctors to develop a personalize prevention plan. But the health law doesn’t explicitly encourage the preventive activity that might help seniors most: working out.

"The single most effective thing you can do to maintain your health, especially in your 70s, is exercise," says Dr. Peter Hollmann, who is chairman of the public policy committee for the American Geriatrics Society.

The health overhaul requires that preventive services recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force be covered for seniors at no charge. But on the subject of exercise, the task force doesn't say much. It doesn't evaluate the preventive value of exercise at all — not surprising since its focus is on services and screenings.

The only statement the task force makes is that there's not enough evidence about the effectiveness of doctors promoting physical activity to recommend for or against it.

Even so, advocates for seniors hope the annual wellness visit will provide a chance to encourage Medicare beneficiaries to get out and about. "If you want to be healthy in your 80s, keep moving in your 70s," says Hollmann. "Even if you've already lost some ground, you can keep from losing more by ramping your program to your capacity."

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