Joining Medicare and taking advantage of the many health benefits that come with your new coverage may seem like a daunting process, but that’s why we’re here to help! One benefit that is far too overlooked and underappreciated is the Welcome to Medicare Visit. In fact, according to statistics from the National Institute of Health, not even one-fifth of new Medicare beneficiaries will ever take advantage of this free, often misunderstood benefit.
The Welcome to Medicare Visit – sometimes called the Initial Preventative Physical Exam – is the perfect time for you to meet and get to know your doctor, all while checking and discussing your health status. This Visit also allows you to catch up on any preventative screenings you may have missed, as well as learn about your Medicare benefits and how you can use them to stay healthy.
If you are planning on enrolling in Medicare this year, or if you have been enrolled for less than a year, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about getting the most from your Welcome to Medicare Visit.
Who is eligible for the Welcome to Medicare Visit?
If you are enrolled in Medicare Part B, then you are eligible for the Welcome to Medicare Visit. You must sign up for this Visit within 12 months from your effective Medicare start date. Whether you are enrolled in Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage, this benefit is available to you.
If you meet this criterion, and if your doctor accepts Medicare, then your Welcome to Medicare Visit is free. For the Visit, your annual deductible and Part B coinsurance are waived.
What does the Welcome to Medicare Visit include?
Generally, there are seven core topics that you and your doctor will cover in your Welcome to Medicare Visit.
Review your medical history. Your doctor will ask you to go through your medical history. This will include detailing any illnesses, surgeries and operations, medications, and any family history that may increase your risk of certain conditions. Your doctor will also want to review your diet, activity level, and any alcohol or tobacco use.
Risk factors for depression
Seniors face a higher risk for depression and anxiety, particularly seniors with chronic health conditions. In addition to discussing your mood, your doctor will perform a mental status and depression screening test if he/she feels it is necessary. The screening does not cost any extra money.
Assess your safety
Your doctor will ask you questions to ensure that you are doing everything possible to stay safe during your everyday life. They’ll ask if you wear a seatbelt, have working smoke detectors, or have any fall prevention equipment, for example. In this portion of the Visit, your doctor is examining your potential for accidents or injuries and will then recommend ways to prevent them.
Your physical exam involves some basic measurements of height, weight and BMI calculation. The doctor will also check your blood pressure, vision, and hearing. From here, your doctor may recommend additional testing, and while Medicare will cover these tests, you may have to pay your normal deductible and coinsurance depending on the test.
End of life planning, if requested
End-of-life planning may come up during your visit, in which case your doctor will discuss with you advance directives and healthcare power of attorney. You can also ask your doctor for further information to take home and discuss with your spouse, partner, or other family members.
Counseling and education
Depending on your health, your doctor may use this time to advise and recommend improving your health. A wide range of topics could be discussed here, such as diet and nutrition, exercise and physical activity, and/or preventative tests and services you may need.
Referrals for additional services
Lastly, your doctor could refer you for additional services such as an EKG screening, bone density scan, or ultrasound to screen for abdominal aortic aneurysm. Medicare should cover most of these tests at 100% of the cost, but it is nevertheless a good idea to ask your doctor if the test is covered before you schedule it.
What’s the difference between the Welcome to Medicare Visit and the Annual Wellness Visit?
The Welcome to Medicare Visit and the Annual Wellness Visit (AWV) share many similarities, but the Welcome Visit occurs only within your first year of starting Medicaid, while the AWV happens once a year. During the AWV, your doctor may conduct a cognitive screen test to look for Alzheimer’s or dementia. This exam comes at no extra charge.
Just as with your Welcome to Medicare Visit, the AWV is free of charge. However, you may be liable for the cost of any additional tests and procedures that your doctor recommends out of your wellness check. Ask your doctor if the test or procedure they recommend is covered – you do not want an unexpected bill showing up in the mail.
How do I schedule a Welcome to Medicare Visit?
Once you have effectively enrolled in Medicare Part B, all you need to do is contact your doctor and schedule an appointment. Make sure that you tell the office you are scheduling a Welcome visit so that your doctor has the necessary time to perform each screening and discuss the results with you.
If you have chosen a new doctor after you enrolled in Medicaid, you should request that your medical records from your previous provider get transferred to your new doctor. To ensure your Visit is as smooth as possible, you’ll want to have all of the following information at the ready:
Past medical records, including any x-ray and lab reports
A list of all prescription and over-the-counter medications you take regularly
Your family medical history, especially information about hereditary conditions
Any existing advance directives or other health decision-making documents
A list of any questions or concerns you want to discuss with your doctor
Your Medicare ID or Medicare Advantage card
Appointments differ from person to person, but you should schedule roughly 30 minutes to an hour for your Welcome to Medicare Visit. If your doctor wishes to conduct any additional screenings or tests, your appointment may run longer.
Some people find attending their Welcome Visit with a spouse, family member, or trusted friend to be helpful. This person can be there to take notes and help you remember any information needed for follow up appointments.
Don’t forget your yearly wellness checks
Surprisingly, only 50% of older adults are current with their immunizations record, recommended screenings and preventative care. These services are typically covered at 100% by Medicare, so it is free for you to stay up to date.
Be sure to use your annual wellness benefit so that you can keep your good health. Your doctor will be aware which tests and screenings are covered by Medicaid, and this will ensure your health records are as current as possible. Healthcare prevention is vital for a long life.