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Do You Skip Your Health Screenings?

Overcome whatever is keeping you from getting tested.

Middle-aged and older Americans offer up all sorts of reasons for not getting preventive health screenings. Among the more common, according to a recent AARP survey: "I’m confused about which health screenings I should get." "Screenings cost too much." "I don’t have health insurance." "Health screenings just aren’t that important."

Do any sound familiar? If so, these tips and resources will help you eliminate excuses for not getting screenings and overcome obstacles to getting the preventive services you need.

Don’t think you can afford screenings?

Under the new health care law, and beginning on Sept. 23, 2010, many preventive services will be offered for free under most new individual insurance policies and employer-sponsored health plans. (If your existing plan won’t fully cover preventive care, please see below.) Also, preventive screenings will be free for all Medicare recipients beginning Jan. 1, 2011. A full list of covered tests is available on the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Web site.

Don’t have health insurance?

If you’re uninsured or your existing plan won't cover screenings, find out if the AARP/Wellness Tour is coming to a city near you. This nationwide tour will deliver free screenings and health education in 300 cities. Also, take advantage of free and low-cost screenings offered at drug stores, grocery store pharmacies and community clinics. If you are unsure about how the new law affects you, this Health Care Reform Explained series will help answer your questions.

Need transportation to get to screenings?

If you’re physically able and the doctor’s office is close by, consider walking or biking to your appointment. Depending on your needs, public transportation, ride sharing or special transportation services may be good solutions. These resources for getting around without a car will help you learn more about your transportation options.

Confused about which screenings to get?

That’s understandable — it can be complicated. As we get older, preventive screening shifts to evaluating how well the mind and body function. Age alone should not determine which tests to get or when to start and stop specific screenings, write Dr. John R. Burton and Dr. William J. Hall in their recent book, Taking Charge of Your Health: A Guide to Getting the Best Health Care As You Age. Ultimately, decisions about the care you need should be made in consultation with a primary care provider who knows your medical history, the medications you’re taking and your risk factors.

Educate yourself so you know what to raise with your doctor — these easy-to-scan tables of screenings by age and gender and this AARP webinar about screenings recommendations will help. You can also get information about your conditions and risk factors at our Health Learning Centers.      

Too busy to get screened? Afraid of getting screened?

Study after study has shown that early detection and treatment are critical to a successful outcome, whether the diagnosis is breast cancer, diabetes or heart disease. Next time you tell yourself you’re too busy to get your cholesterol levels checked, imagine how much a heart attack will disrupt your schedule.   

How can you overcome fears about getting screened? Burton offers this advice: "Fear of screening … needs to be dealt with on an individual basis. Is it that your mother had cancer, and you have a fear of it, or you just feel fine and don’t want to deal with it? Think about it before you go to see your doctor. Make your list and say, 'I’d like to talk about my fear of screening,' and then you both can focus on that."    

If all else fails, try rewarding yourself for good behavior. One Washington, D.C.-area breast cancer survivor reports that after her surgery she was very anxious before follow-up screenings. How did she overcome those anxieties? Hint: Her doctor’s office is right above a department store.

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