Preventive care hasn't caught on yet

A provision in the Affordable Care Act requires Medicare and new health plans to give Americans free preventive care. The free tests will include 45 preventive screenings and services such as hearing-loss tests for newborns, depression screenings for adolescents and bone-density scans for women to test for osteoporosis.

In theory, making these screenings free should help boost the number of people receiving preventive care, the Wall Street Journal reports. But will Americans bite? Many patients don't use these services. For example, less than half of adults over 50 are up to date on their colon-cancer screening. Just half of eligible women in the U.S. get an annual mammogram. And only 28 percent of smokers are counseled on how to quit.

It's possible they're not aware of them. Plus, many doctors don't usually offer preventive screenings, although many health plans cover all or part of the cost.

Whether free preventive services are a good value for our healthcare dollars or simply siphon money from more beneficial services is a subject of ongoing debate. A review of hundreds of preventive care studies revealed that less than 20 percent saved money, WSJ reports. The Congressional Budget Office in 2009 found that expanded government support of preventive care would likely make people healthier, but wouldn't cut overall spending.

But advocates of spending more on preventive services say the savings would be substantial. The Trust for America's Health, a nonprofit advocacy group, estimates that prevention programs could save the U.S. more than $16 billion annually in five years; researchers at the Commonwealth Fund project that reduced tobacco use and a decline in obesity would cut national health spending by $474 billion over 10 years.

To learn more:
- read the Wall Street Journal article

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