Seniors overlooking preventive care

As part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed last year under health reform, Medicare now offers preventive wellness visits to seniors enrolled in Medicare Part B and select Medicare Advantage plans. For eligible seniors, these wellness visits can prove to be an important step in preventive care; however, the rates of utilization are surprisingly low. That’s the bad news. The good news is that this represents an ideal opportunity for convenient care clinics.

Recognizing the integral role that retail-based health clinics play in improving health outcomes and reducing costs, several clinic operators are stepping up to the plate to drive awareness of the offering and bolster utilization.

“With Walgreens serving as a daily health and living destination for tens of millions of customers and patients, it makes perfect sense to use the Take Care Clinics to offer convenient access to preventive healthcare services. Preventive medicine can play an important role in improving health and wellness, and healthier patients means lower costs for individuals, families and payers,” said Heather Helle, divisional VP of Consumer Solutions Group for Take Care Health Systems.

Take Care Clinics announced in mid-April that it is now providing the Welcome to Medicare Preventative Visit and Medicare Yearly Wellness Visits at all of its 360-plus clinic locations throughout the country. Take Care Clinics is heavily promoting the new offering on its website, and Walgreens and Take Care Clinics are reaching eligible seniors through such tactics as grassroots activities in the markets served by Take Care Clinics.

MinuteClinic, which is owned by CVS Caremark, does not offer Welcome to Medicare Preventative Visits and Medicare Yearly Wellness Visits at this point in time; however, the clinic operator does work to drive awareness of services by providing educational materials to Medicare-eligible patients.

“We offer a range of preventive services to Medicare beneficiaries that aim to help people on their path to better health and reduce overall costs. In addition, CVS/pharmacy and MinuteClinic provide educational materials to Medicare-eligible patients that include information about new preventive services and savings available for those affected by the Medicare Part D coverage gap,” stated Andrew Sussman, president of MinuteClinic and SVP/associate chief medical officer of CVS Caremark.

Driving awareness is key. Since January 2011, Medicare has offered the annual wellness visit, which is free for patients (i.e., no co-pays or deductibles). However, a national survey released in late April by the John A. Hartford Foundation found that 68% of older adults surveyed had not heard of the benefit or were not sure if they had heard of it. Only 17% said that they had received their annual wellness visit. In fact, the self-reported number may be overstated, as Medicare’s records suggest that uptake is only 6.5%.

The poll, conducted by national public opinion firm Lake Research Partners, surveyed 1,028 Americans ages 65 years and older between Feb. 29 and March 3, 2012.

Low awareness is clearly a factor in the high underutilization rate, but it is likely that a lack of access also is an obstacle. Not all physicians’ offices are providing the wellness visits.

“It’s tough for us to speculate on why the Medicare Yearly Wellness Visit benefit is not being widely utilized by eligible seniors, but with our accessible and convenient model, we believe we can play a role in helping Medicare members take advantage of the services that are available to them,” Helle said.

Upon completion of a Welcome to Medicare Preventative Visit or Medicare Yearly Wellness Visit at a Take Care Clinic, a Take Care Health Systems provider delivers a personalized wellness plan to the patient with clear explanations of findings and recommendations. A summary of the visit, with patient permission, also is shared with the patient’s primary care provider and health plan via the clinic’s electronic medical record system.

With more than 1,000 retail health clinics throughout the country, convenient hours of operation and high-quality care, the convenient care industry is ideally positioned to save Medicare dollars by improving and maintaining the health and well-being of seniors and, in turn, driving down costs.

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