CMS enlists pharmacies to advertise free Medicare benefits

Millions of brochures and guides have informed beneficiaries about annual wellness and prevention care services available at no extra cost.

By Charles Fiegl amednews staff — Posted Aug. 31, 2012

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Federal health officials have partnered with pharmacies to distribute information to Medicare patients about coverage benefits and preventive health services.

CVS Caremark, Walgreens and other national drugstore chains are distributing Medicare brochures and other materials describing benefits for physician services to patients picking up medication orders. Since 2011, the Medicare program has waived co-payments and deductibles for certain preventive care. Tens of millions of patients have taken advantage of services with no added out-of-pocket costs, such as vaccinations and health screenings, but millions of others are unaware of or decline to receive the free care.

“Our pharmacy partners are helping their customers make informed health care decisions,” said Dept. of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “These partnerships will help people with Medicare learn more about new preventive services such as mammograms and the new annual wellness visit that are available at no charge for everyone with Medicare.”

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has several documents available for health professionals to share with patients. For example, CMS has a checklist that asks beneficiaries if they are up to date on preventive services. Another brochure offers questions for patients to ask their doctors about preventive tests, results and costs.

The partnership between Medicare and pharmacies began earlier in 2012, officials said during an Aug. 15 conference call with reporters. By August, pharmacies had delivered millions of pieces of information to patients. For instance, CVS Caremark has distributed 750,000 brochures and printed 30 million messages on register receipts for customers at its pharmacy and MinuteClinic locations.

The Medicare agency has seen increasing numbers of patients seek preventive services after some slow starts. Nearly 18 million Medicare beneficiaries, representing 52.6% of the patient population, received a preventive service without paying a co-pay or deductible during the first seven months of 2012. More than 1.6 million patients received an annual wellness visit service.

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