Medicare Offers New Preventive Screening Benefits

New Medicare regulation ensures that seniors no longer have to pay for the screening of two dangerous mental health issues.

According to a press release, last Friday the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that Medicare beneficiaries can now be assessed for depression and alcohol misuse at no personal cost to themselves. Also, some counseling sessions for alcohol misuse will be covered by the plan.

The decision comes on the heels of a report, “Enhancing Use of Clinical Preventive Services among Older Adults—Closing the Gap,” released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report recommended that screening and treatment for depression and alcohol misuse be added to the list of services covered by Medicare.

Under the new rules, screening for each disorder must be done by a senior’s primary care provider. If an elderly person tests positive for alcohol abuse, they can have up to counseling sessions per year covered by Medicare. Follow up for a person who is diagnosed with depression must include treatment or referrals from the primary care provider.

Depression is a serious problem among the elderly, whose probability for acquiring this mental disorder increases as they become dependent on home health care, or must stay in a hospital. In certain senior populations, the rates of depression can be as high as 13.5%, according to the CDC.

An elderly person with depression may exhibit different symptoms, such as, overeating or loss of appetite, a distinct lack of energy, and suicidal thoughts and tendencies. These symptoms are often chalked up to an existing illness or part of the normal aging process.

Alcohol abuse can also pose a serious threat to an elderly person’s health. The CDC reports that, in 2009, 3.8% of people 65 and older said that they engaged in binge drinking in the last 30 days. Binge drinking can be a signal that a person is dangerously abusing alcohol.

CMS officials said that by making the screening and treatment process for these two disorders cheaper and easier, they hope to amplify the health of Medicare beneficiaries.

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