Getting the care you need when you’re ill is important, but preventing illness in the first place is even more critical for maintaining long term health goals. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandated that most health insurance policies provide preventive care at no cost to the consumer. However, according to the CDC, Americans utilize preventive services at about half the recommended rate.
What Is Preventive Care?
Preventive care, just as the name implies, means the measures a person takes to protect their health before they become sick. This can include vaccinations, screenings, routine exams, and other services that would prevent disease.
I Don’t Feel Sick, Why Should I Bother?
When an illness or disease is detected early, treatment is often easier. In fact in some instances, caught early enough, a disease can be prevented entirely. Consider pre-diabetes: Screenings are available to determine if you are pre-diabetic, that is you are showing signs of glucose intolerance, even though you may not notice any outward symptoms. A person could then adopt positive lifestyle changes such as switching to a healthier diet and incorporating regular exercise, thus avoiding the next level diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.
In addition to protecting one’s health, preventive care can save money. Treating pre-diabetes with diet and exercise is certainly more cost effective than regulating type 2 diabetes with medication. The complications of diabetes include heart, kidney, and eye disease, which are far more complicated to treat.
All Adults Need Preventive Care
Adults should see a medical provider on a routine basis in order to access screenings and immunizations they may not otherwise schedule. Planning a well-visit to the doctor on a routine basis can keep these necessary exams top of mind. In addition to screenings for obesity, diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol, adults can also benefit from counseling on such topics as quitting smoking, treating depression, and reducing alcohol use.
It is recommended that all adults over the age of 50 have a colon cancer screening. Men 50 and older should receive regular prostate cancer screenings and testicular exams. Women should receive mammograms every one to two years after the age of 40, as well as screenings for cervical cancer.
In addition to medical screenings, adults benefit from routine dental, eye, hearing and skin exams, though these exams are generally not covered as part of a major medical plan.
Children and Adolescent Preventive Care Is Crucial
According to the CDC, children who have better health do better in school, both because they have fewer absences and because higher levels of fitness have been shown to lead to higher test scores.
Preventive care for adolescents is especially important. In addition to keeping up to date on vaccinations and general health matters, routine visits with a doctor provides time for other screenings such as those for depression, alcohol and drug use, and behavioral screenings. Sexually transmitted infection prevention and counseling provide an opportunity for teens to have private conversations with a medical professional and have questions answered when they may be less inclined to speak to other adults.
Seniors and Women Have Special Needs
Seniors have their own needs as they age and Medicare also provides preventive care. Screenings such as bone mass measurements and medical nutrition therapy for diabetes or kidney disease are two examples of services that become necessary as one ages. Women, both pregnant and of child bearing age, also have unique needs necessitating specialized care and support. In addition, screenings for domestic violence can be life-saving.
As the new year approaches, it’s time to think about scheduling your annual screenings and well visits. Because most insurance plans allow for these services at no cost, there’s no excuse not to take advantage of the preventive care afforded by insurance plans.
For more information on what preventive services are covered for adults, women, and children, review this resource made available by healthcare.gov.
This post has been updated from its original run on December 9, 2015.