Preventive health care, also called preventive medicine, focuses on preventing future disease or disability by promoting and maintaining health and well-being in the present. It usually takes the form of regular health screenings, consistent check-ups with a physician, receiving all recommended vaccines, eating healthy, exercising regularly, and avoiding tobacco.
These routine health practices position you to take control of your health before issues arise. Preventive medicine also helps protect you from experiencing health issues in the first place and serves to catch any illnesses that do occur in their early stages so swift treatment can begin.
Why is Preventive Health Care Important?
Preventive services are the most basic form of health care recommended for all individuals. Unfortunately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that Americans only use them at about half the recommended rate. They also predict that if everyone in the U.S. received the recommended level of clinical preventive care, more than 100,000 deaths could be prevented each year. Today, more than 900,000 Americans die prematurely each year from the five leading causes of death —heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, and unintentional injuries. Between 20 and 40 percent of these deaths could be avoided by taking preventive steps.
The CDC believes that preventing disease is the key to improving America’s overall health and keeping rising costs under control. When we as a country invest in preventive care services, the benefits don’t just occur at the individual level but are broadly shared by communities. “Children grow up in communities, homes, and families that nurture their healthy development, and adults are productive and healthy, both inside and outside the workplace,” the CDC says. “Businesses benefit because a healthier workforce reduces long-term health care costs and increases stability and productivity. Furthermore, communities that offer a healthy, productive, stable workforce can be more attractive places for families to live and for businesses to locate.”
Even though preventive health care is so vital to ensuring a healthy lifestyle, many Americans are deterred by perceived costs associated with going to the doctor for check-ups and screenings. Insurance costs like co-pays, deductibles, and co-insurance may be seen as a barrier to going to the doctor on a regular basis for many individuals and families. Luckily, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) makes preventive care affordable, allowing more Americans to access the health care they need. The ACA requires that health insurance providers cover most preventive care services—meaning there’s no charge to you. That’s right, no co-pays, deductibles, or co-insurance necessary.
So, why are preventive services usually covered by insurance? Preventive health care, as we stated above, decreases the likelihood of individuals developing preventable diseases or disabilities. It costs less for insurance companies to pay for preventive care than it does for them to pay for all costs associated with disease management or emergency medicine. Ask your insurance provider which preventive services are covered or partially covered by your plan. It’s also important to note preventive services are only covered when received by a doctor or other provider who is considered “in-network” for your insurance provider.
Can Preventive Health Care Save You Money?
Preventive health services are free of cost with insurance, but do the savings now actually save you money in the future? By keeping your health and wellness on track through preventive screenings, vaccinations, doctors’ visits, and counseling, you’re reducing your risk of developing diseases or disorders later in life. This means your future medical bills would hypothetically be lower than they would if you didn’t get the recommended levels of preventive care earlier in life.
According to the Surgeon General, for every HIV infection prevented, an estimated $355,00 is saved that would have been spent on lifelong treatment. The Surgeon General also states that annual health care costs are $2,000 higher for smokers, $1,400 higher for people who are obese, and $6,600 higher for those with diabetes. In addition, medical costs are reduced by approximately $3.27 for every dollar spent on workplace wellness programs.
The rate at which preventive health care services can reduce future medical costs will vary from person to person. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the goal of preventive medicine is to improve health. Even if taking preventive steps doesn’t save you money — the benefit of long-term health is the ultimate goal.
Preventive Health Care for Adults
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends the following preventive health care services for all adults. These services are covered by health insurance companies. Some services are recommended for certain age groups, while others are suggested for either men or women, or for those who practice certain behaviors.
Recommended Services or Practices for All Adults
- Alcohol misuse screening and counseling – recommended adults 18 and older
- Aspirin use – recommended for adults 50 to 59 years of age with a high risk for cardiovascular problems or heart disease
- Blood pressure screening – recommended every three to five years for adults ages 18 to 40 and once per year for adults 40 or older
- Cholesterol screenings – recommended every four to six years; some may need more frequent screenings spending on their risk for heart disease
- Colorectal cancer screening – recommended for adults aged 50 to 75
- Depression screening – recommended for those who display signs of depression
- Diabetes (Type 2) screening – recommended for adults 40 to 70 years of age who are overweight or obese
- Diet counseling – recommended for adults who have a higher risk for cardiovascular disease
- Fall prevention – recommended for adults 65 and older and consists of exercise or physical therapy paired with vitamin D use
- Hepatitis B screening – recommended for those with a high risk of infection, such as those from countries with two percent or more Hepatitis B prevalence
- Hepatitis C screening – recommended for those with a high risk of infection; a one-time screening is recommended for all adults born between 1945 and 1965
- HIV screening – recommended for adolescents and adults ages 15 to 65 and others with an increased risk of infection
- Immunization vaccines – Flu shots are recommended yearly. The Tdap shot is recommended for all adults to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough. All adults need the Tdap shot once, and pregnant women need a booster during every pregnancy. Tdap booster shots are also recommended every 10 years.
- Lung cancer screening – Annual screenings are recommended for adults 55 to 80 with a higher risk for lung cancer (heavy smokers or have quit in the past 15 years).
- Obesity screening and counseling – recommended for all adults
- Sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention counseling – recommended for all sexually active adolescents and adults who have a higher risk of infection
- Statin preventive medication – recommended for adults 40 to 75 years of age with a high risk of cardiovascular disease
- Syphilis screening – recommended for adults with a higher risk of infection
- Tobacco use screening – recommended for all adults and cessation interventions are recommended for tobacco users
- Tuberculosis screening – recommended for adults with no symptoms, who are at higher risk of infection
Recommended Services or Practices for Men
- Abdominal aortic aneurysm one-time screening – recommended for men ages 65 to 75 who have ever smoked
Recommended Services or Practices for Women
- Anemia screening – recommended on a routine basis for pregnant women or women who may become pregnant
- Breast cancer genetic test counseling (BRCA) – recommended for women with a higher risk of developing breast cancer
- Breast cancer mammography screening – recommended every one to two years for women over the age of 40
- Breast cancer chemoprevention counseling – recommended for women with a high risk for breast or ovarian cancer
- Breastfeeding comprehensive support and counseling – trained providers and access to breastfeeding supplies for pregnant and nursing women
- Cervical cancer screening (Pap test or Pap smear) – recommended every three years for women 21 to 65; a Pap smear combined with a Human Papillomavirus (HPV) test is recommended every five years for women 30 to 65 who don’t want a Pap smear every three years.
- Chlamydia infection screening – recommended for sexually active women 24 years or younger and older women at a higher risk of infection
- Contraception – FDA-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling, as prescribed by a health care provider for women with reproductive capacity
- Diabetes screening – recommended for women with a history of gestational diabetes who aren’t currently pregnant and who haven’t been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in the past
- Domestic and interpersonal violence screening and counseling – recommended for all women
- Folic acid – Daily supplements are recommended for all women who are planning or capable of pregnancy
- Gestational diabetes screening – recommended for women 24 to 28 weeks pregnant and those with a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes
- Gonorrhea screening – recommended for sexually active women 24 years or younger and older women with an increased risk of infection
- Hepatitis B screening – recommended for pregnant women during their first prenatal visit
- HIV screening and counseling – recommended for all pregnant women
- Osteoporosis screening – recommend for women 65 years of age or older
- Preeclampsia prevention (aspirin) and screening – recommended for pregnant women with high blood pressure; aspirin use is recommended as a prevention method after 12 weeks of pregnancy for those who have a high risk of preeclampsia.
- Rh incompatibility screening – recommended for all pregnant women during their first visit for pregnancy-related care; follow up screenings are recommended for women Rh (D)-negative women at 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy.
- Syphilis screening – recommended for all pregnant women
- Expanded tobacco intervention and counseling – recommended for all pregnant women
- Urinary tract or other infection screening – recommended for all pregnant women or women who may become pregnant
- Urinary incontinence screening – recommended yearly for all women
- Well-woman visits – recommended yearly for all women
Preventive Health Care for Children
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all children receive the following preventive health care services, which are covered by health insurance companies.
- Autism screening – recommended for all children 18 to 30 months old
- Behavioral assessments – recommended for all children under the age of 17
- Bilirubin concentration screening – recommended for newborns
- Blood screening – recommended for newborns
- Depression screening – recommended for adolescents beginning routinely at age 12
- Developmental screening – recommended for all children under the age of 3
- Dyslipidemia screening – recommended once between the ages of 9 and 11 and once between the ages 17 and 21 years; also recommended for children with a higher risk of lipid disorders
- Fluoride chemoprevention supplements – recommended for children without fluoride in their water source
- Fluoride varnish – recommended for all infants and children as soon as teeth are present
- Gonorrhea preventive medication – recommended for the eyes of all newborns
- Hearing screenings – recommended for all newborns and for children once between 11 and 14 years, once between 15 and 17 years, and once between 18 and 21 years
- Hematocrit or hemoglobin screening – recommended for all children
- Hemoglobinopathies or sickle cell screening – recommended for newborns
- Hepatitis B screening – recommended for adolescents with a high risk of infection
- HIV screening – recommended for adolescents with an increased risk of infection
- Hypothyroidism screening – recommended for newborns
- Immunization vaccines – Follow the recommended vaccination schedule.
- Iron supplements – recommended for children ages 6 to 12 at risk for anemia
- Lead screening – recommended for children with an increased risk of exposure
- Obesity screening and counseling – recommended for children 6 years and older
- Phenylketonuria (PKU) screening – recommended for newborns
- Sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention counseling and screening – recommended for sexually active adolescents with a higher risk of infection
- Tuberculin testing – recommended for children with a higher risk of developing tuberculosis
- Vision screening – recommended for all children at least once between ages 3 and 5
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