One benefit available under the Affordable Care Act (sometimes called “Obamacare”) enacted in 2011 is the Medicare Annual Wellness Visit. This yearly appointment with your primary care provider (PCP) is covered under Medicare Part B. It enables you and your PCP to come up with a personalized prevention plan based on your current health and your known risk factors.
As with most doctors’ visits that we are all familiar with, your standard vital statistics – height, weight, blood pressure, etc. will be noted. You may fill out a questionnaire designed to communicate to your doctor your medical history, including your family’s medical history. You will likely also answer questions relating to your health status and your injury and behavioral risks (do you smoke? how much alcohol do you drink?).
Most of us are used to these kinds of assessments. Where the Medicare Annual Wellness Visit goes beyond the usual is in looking more closely at issues that tend to be relevant to older patients. Your doctor will look at your functional ability, such as screening for hearing loss, as well as safety issues, such as your risk of falling. Your doctor will also want to know about your ability to perform activities of daily living (called “ADLs”) such as bathing and dressing.
During your Medicare Annual Wellness Visit your doctor will compile a list of all of your medical providers and all of your medications. It’s very important that your PCP gather this information because sometimes two different medications prescribed by two different doctors will not mix well or be less effective when used together.
One of the most important components of the visit is the screening for cognitive impairment. By performing this assessment every year your doctor can watch for changes. Sometimes changes in our cognitive abilities are due to medications we’re taking or some other behavior that could be adjusted to correct the cognitive issue.
In other cases, changes in cognitive ability are due to just general aging or can be due to a degenerative illness such as Alzheimer’s. The big value of doing these assessments every year is it enables early diagnosis and intervention. So make sure to get your Medicare Annual Wellness Visit every year and make sure it includes a cognitive assessment.