Republicans blast HHS for promoting "free" services

Lawmakers deride what they see as an attempt to hide the true cost of preventive medicine.

By Charles Fiegl amednews staff — Posted Feb. 17, 2012

Print  |   Email  |   Respond  |   Reprints  |   Like Facebook  |   Share Twitter  |   Tweet Linkedin

Ten Republican senators have criticized the Obama administration for marketing Medicare preventive services as being free to patients.

The GOP lawmakers said the Dept. of Health and Human Services' use of the word "free" in promotional materials to patients is misleading because there is no such thing as a "free lunch." The senators wrote HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius a letter Feb. 7 chiding the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for hiding the true cost of these services in 2011.

"While we generally support encouraging preventative care, we are alarmed that HHS and CMS are stating that screenings provided through Medicare, such as colorectal cancer screenings, prostate cancer screening, mammograms, Pap tests and pelvic exams, and smoking cessation counseling are free services," the letter states.

For instance, the national payment amount for a pelvic exam was $36.69 in 2011. A colonoscopy for a patient who is not at high risk for colon cancer cost $395.83. The Medicare program pays 100% of the approved costs for these and dozens of other services for which there is no patient cost-sharing.

The 2010 health system reform law requires Medicare to waive the co-pay and deductible for certain preventive services. More than 25.7 million Part B beneficiaries received at least one preventive service without having to contribute to the cost directly in 2011, according to CMS.

The services instead are paid for by taxpayers, the letter states. "In fact, more than 40 cents of each Medicare dollar comes directly from current taxpayers each year through general revenue."

In general, organized medicine and patient advocacy groups have supported removing co-pays to encourage patients to seek preventive medicine that makes them healthier or prevents serious illness. An HHS spokesman did not respond to a request for comment by this article's deadline.

The letter was signed by Sens. Tom Coburn, MD (Okla.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Richard Burr (N.C.), John Cornyn (Texas), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Charles Grassley (Iowa), John Thune (S.D.), Pat Roberts (Kan.), Mike Crapo (Idaho) and Michael Enzi (Wyo.).

Back to top



Read story

Confronting bias against obese patients

Medical educators are starting to raise awareness about how weight-related stigma can impair patient-physician communication and the treatment of obesity. Read story

Read story


American Medical News is ceasing publication after 55 years of serving physicians by keeping them informed of their rapidly changing profession. Read story

Read story

Policing medical practice employees after work

Doctors can try to regulate staff actions outside the office, but they must watch what they try to stamp out and how they do it. Read story

Read story

Diabetes prevention: Set on a course for lifestyle change

The YMCA's evidence-based program is helping prediabetic patients eat right, get active and lose weight. Read story

Read story

Medicaid's muddled preventive care picture

The health system reform law promises no-cost coverage of a lengthy list of screenings and other prevention services, but some beneficiaries still might miss out. Read story

Read story

How to get tax breaks for your medical practice

Federal, state and local governments offer doctors incentives because practices are recognized as economic engines. But physicians must know how and where to find them. Read story

Read story

Advance pay ACOs: A down payment on Medicare's future

Accountable care organizations that pay doctors up-front bring practice improvements, but it's unclear yet if program actuaries will see a return on investment. Read story

Read story

Physician liability: Your team, your legal risk

When health care team members drop the ball, it's often doctors who end up in court. How can physicians improve such care and avoid risks? Read story

  • Stay informed
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • RSS
  • LinkedIn