Medicare Update 2005

WebMD Live Events Transcript

The new year brought changes in Medicare benefits: a one-time "Welcome to Medicare" physical exam, cardiovascular screening, and diabetes screening -- all part of a new emphasis on prevention and early detection, all designed to provide seniors with better care and a higher quality of life. In addition, there will be more changes in drug coverage. How will this affect you? Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Mark B. McClellan, MD, PhD, joined us on Jan. 25 to answer your questions about Medicare coverage.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR:
Welcome to WebMD Live, Dr. McClellan. Let's start at a very basic level. There seems to be some confusion on the part of the public about the difference between Medicare and Medicaid. So that we are all on the same page, please briefly explain what the Medicare program is and who it is designed to serve.

McCLELLAN:
First I'd like to thank WebMD and all the people joining us on the Internet today to learn more about Medicare and Medicaid and all of the things our programs can do to help you improve your health.

Now, Medicare is the health insurance program for America's seniors and people with disabilities. It covers approximately 42 million Americans today and that number is expected to double over the next 20 years.

Medicaid is a health insurance program for lower income and medically needy Americans. This includes families with limited incomes. It includes seniors and people with disabilities with very low incomes for services that Medicare does not cover; that is, mainly long-term care services.

Medicare's benefits are improving right now to include preventive treatments and drug coverage and so Medicare is an increasingly important source of insurance coverage for seniors and people with disabilities.

Medicaid covers approximately 40 million Americans, as well.

MODERATOR:
There have been several changes in Medicare coverage announced recently, some taking effect this year, others to be implemented in 2006. Many of the changes effective this year seem to place a new emphasis on prevention and early detection. Can you please explain the new options available to those on Medicare?

"Until now, well over 90% of Medicare spending has gone to treating health problems and the complications of diseases after they occur. I want to see Medicare putting at least as much emphasis on preventing diseases and on preventing the costly complications of chronic diseases."

McCLELLAN:
Medicare is now covering a broad range of preventive treatments. This is very important in making sure that Medicare keeps up with modern medicine. Until now, well over 90% of Medicare spending has gone to treating health problems and the complications of diseases after they occur. I want to see Medicare putting at least as much emphasis on preventing diseases and on preventing the costly complications of chronic diseases. That's what accounts for most Medicare spending today. Medicare's new preventive benefits give us the opportunity to do that.

For example, this year, for the first time, Medicare is covering a "Welcome to Medicare Exam" for our new beneficiaries and we are also covering screening tests for heart disease and diabetes. But we have a big challenge ahead. Now that we have closed the coverage gap for preventive treatments, we now need to close the prevention gap. Too many of our beneficiaries are having costly medical complications from diabetes, heart failure, metastatic cancers, and other illnesses that we know how to treat better.



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