We worry a lot about what Medicare beneficiaries must for pay out of pocket, such as monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and copays for doctor visits and prescription drugs. But what many enrollees may not realize is that there are services that won’t cost them a cent.
You can get vaccines and screenings for a number of illnesses and see your doctor each year for a wellness visit. You can also get counseling to help you kick smoking or manage your diabetes. You won’t be subject to any out-of-pocket charges for these services as long as you use a health care provider who participates in Medicare or, if you get your health care through a Medicare Advantage plan, an in-network medical professional.
Here’s a look at a dozen things you can get for free from Medicare. For a full list of the program’s preventive and screening services, go to Medicare.gov.
1. A onetime “Welcome to Medicare” visit
This visit must be made within the first 12 months of signing up for Medicare Part B, the part of Medicare that covers doctor visits and other outpatient services.
Think of this initial visit as a baseline check-in. Your provider will review your medical and personal history, see what medications you are taking, give you a flu and pneumococcal shot, take your vital signs (height, weight and blood pressure), do a simple vision test, ask some mental and behavioral health questions, and offer to help you create any advance directives you might not yet have. And all this will be free.
But note that if after this general check-in, your doctor wants to order some diagnostic tests or perform some other services, the rules governing Part B will apply and you’ll be responsible for 20 percent of the costs. Your coinsurance or copay may be different if you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan or if you have supplemental, or Medigap, insurance.
2. A yearly wellness visit
The first thing to know about this is what it isn’t: a physical. According to Medicare, this is a once-a-year visit to “update your personalized plan to help prevent disease or disability.” Your doctor will probably take your vital signs (height, weight and blood pressure) and review your medical history and the medications you are taking. Providers are also expected to do a cognitive assessment to look for any signs of dementia. If during this visit your doctor needs to order some tests, such as blood work or an actual physical exam, then as with that first welcome Medicare visit, the rules governing your coinsurance under Medicare Part B will apply.
Thanks to a federal law passed in 2022, Medicare now covers most vaccines at no cost to enrollees with prescription drug coverage under Medicare Part D or as part of their Medicare Advantage plan. This includes inoculations recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as the shots for shingles and RSV. Medicare Part B had already covered other vaccines, such as seasonal flu and COVID-19 shots, at no charge.
4. Diabetes screenings
Medicare Part B will cover up to two diabetes screenings each year, including blood glucose tests, if your doctor determines you are at risk for developing diabetes and you have risk factors such as high blood pressure, a history of abnormal cholesterol levels, are obese or have a history of high blood sugar. Part B will also cover these screenings if two or more of the following conditions apply: you are 65 or older, you’re overweight, you have a family history of diabetes or you’ve had gestational diabetes (diabetes while you were pregnant).