|Barbara Dickman: Senior from Westmoreland County PA|
Friday, April 20, 2012
An ounce of prevention: Barbara's Story
This is the second in a five part series on Medicare. Please join "Health on the Horizon" on Facebook!
It is a common saying among public health professionals that in the United States we don’t have “Healthcare”, we have “sickcare”. In other words, our cultural attitude perceives medical services as the place to go only when we are ill. This cultural practice changed recently for Barbara, a 74 year old Westmoreland County resident.
This year Barbara went to see her doctor for an annual physical. Most of us wouldn’t see this simple action as something too earth shattering, but in reality, Barbara represents the first generation of seniors that can now access annual physicals free of charge.
Prior to the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, there was a one-time only introductory physical for Medicare patients and then anything after that was subject to a copay and deductible. As of January 2011, the PPACA began covering annual physicals in full, as well an array of other research proven preventive health measures.
According to the Alliance for Retired People, in 2006, the state of senior’s health practices were pretty bleak. In their August 2006 issue brief, they stated that approximately half of all medicare beneficiaries were not taking advantage of preventive services available to them--services that if utilized could prevent, postpone the onset of serious illnesses and ultimately control costs. There are two explanations for this. One is the cultural belief among a generation that perceives healthcare as primarily a tool to treat illness, not one to prevent it. The second reason is cost. Prior to the passage of the PPACA, many of these services required a 20 percent coinsurance and deductible.
Let’s look at the stats: Colon cancer and cervical cancer are among the most preventable forms of cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, 90% of all colorectal cancers occur in people over the age of 50. Yet, 31% of seniors received a colonoscopy in 2006. With that said, in the past 20 years, with advances in screening technology and polyp removal, incidence and deaths from colorectal cancer have drastically decreased. Likewise, with the advanced technology of the Pap Test (test used to detect cervical cancer), we have seen a 67% decrease in incidence and mortality rates over the past 3 decades. Yet, only 36% of senior women utilized the pap test/pelvic exam to prevent cervical and vaginal cancer.
Transforming the cultural attitude of seniors to see medical services as “healthcare” instead of “sickcare” may continue to be an obstacle for us. However, the advances and success in medical technology is showing that our societal attitude is turning the corner. As of January 2011, our public health policy validated this shift.