Preventive care increases for Medicare patients, but lags behind commercially insured

Although more fee-for-service Medicare patients have taken advantage of preventive services since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act made the type of care more accessible, use of such preventive services still remains low, according to a study published in Health Affairs.

In 2005, Medicare began providing beneficiaries with specific coverage for preventive visits with "Welcome to Medicare," a one-time initial exam focused on prevention. Under the PPACA, in 2011, Medicare expanded coverage to include annual preventive care visits with no patient copay.

Researchers used 2007 to 2013 data from primary care patients ages 65 through 75 who were seen at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation to determine how much people used the preventive services available.

Few people used annual wellness visits in the first few months following its introduction in 2011, but utilization increased rapidly over the next three years. In sum, 32.2 percent of Medicare enrollees made a preventive visit in 2013, and the overall annual use of Medicare-covered preventive visits increased from 1.4 percent before the implementation of the PPACA to 27.5 percent after, according to the report.

Despite this increase, fewer Medicare enrollees had preventive visits between 2011 and 2013 than people with other types of insurance. According to the report, 52.7 percent of people with Medicare HMO, 43.5 percent for private HMO and 42.6 percent for private fee-for-service saw their primary care physicians for preventive visits in the same time period.

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