Your Medicare annual wellness visit: Preventive care and health planning at no extra cost

(BPT) – Most of us know that it’s important to see a doctor for an annual checkup. During your working years, that annual checkup typically means a full physical. But once you become eligible for Medicare, you’ll likely start hearing about something called an annual wellness visit.

Unlike a standard head-to-toe physical, an annual wellness visit is primarily focused on preventive care, health screenings and wellness planning. It gives you an opportunity to have a conversation with your doctor about your health status and goals – then create a long-term plan to help you meet those goals and maximize your well-being.

While Original Medicare doesn’t cover an annual physical, some Medicare Advantage plans do. However, everyone enrolled in Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage is eligible for an annual wellness visit at no additional cost. If your Medicare Advantage plan includes coverage for an annual comprehensive physical exam, ask your provider if the annual wellness visit and the physical can be scheduled during the same visit.

The misconception that the annual wellness visit is the same as a physical could be part of the reason why so few Medicare enrollees take advantage of the benefit – only about 23% of beneficiaries enrolled in Original Medicare attended a wellness visit.

Below you’ll find an overview of what to expect from your annual wellness visit – and hopefully the motivation to schedule one.

Taking stock of your medical history

Your doctor’s office may send you a form ahead of your appointment that includes a list of questions. Filling out this form in advance can help ensure your doctor has a thorough understanding of your health history and also remind you of questions you might want to raise at the appointment.

If you don’t get a form before your visit, you should still be prepared to be as detailed as possible when describing any past medical procedures and illnesses. Knowing specific diagnoses and dates will certainly help, but even giving a rough description of any major medical events in your life will help your physician understand both your past and current medical issues.

Your primary care provider will review your relevant medical history, including major illnesses, surgeries, your current medical condition and medications you’re taking.

The who’s who of your health care team

Keeping you healthy is a group effort, and the primary care provider you see for your wellness visit will want to know who’s part of your health care team. So be prepared to give the person conducting your visit a list of your current health care providers, including contact information and field of specialty.

You may have chosen a health care surrogate or a proxy who will speak on your behalf should you ever become too sick to speak for yourself. If so, bring a copy of your completed forms to your appointment. If you haven’t made your choices yet, this is a good time to get your physician’s advice on your personal advance care planning.

An Rx for a productive medication review

Getting a full rundown of all your vitamins, minerals, herbal supplements and prescription medications can help the doctor spot potential drug interactions that could be harmful to your health. They will also want to ensure you have a complete understanding of each medication, its purpose and any potential side effects.

Make a list, including how often you take each medication and the dosage. Or, bring all your pill bottles with you to your appointment and show them to the provider.

Stats and screenings

A clinician will check your height, weight and blood pressure, and then your provider will likely ask you some questions, including how you have been feeling recently. These questions are designed to test your cognitive function and screen you for depression. Answer them as honestly as possible and come to the appointment well rested so you can perform your best on the tests.

Creating a wellness plan

After completing all tests and assessments, your provider will be ready to assess your current health status and work with you to develop a plan to meet your health goals. That plan will address how to treat your current conditions and how to help prevent future health problems. If you have any risk factors for developing new conditions, your provider will give you some options for managing those risks.

You can also set up a schedule for preventive care or screening tests and discuss treatment options for any newly diagnosed conditions.

Don’t be shy to ask questions throughout the annual wellness visit; your provider may have more time than usual to listen to your concerns and answer your questions.

It’s also important to be honest about your health goals. Not everyone sets out to exercise daily or lose 10 pounds in the next year – and that’s OK. Maybe your goal is to ride a bike with your grandkids around the neighborhood or to cut back on your alcohol consumption. Whatever your health goals are, your provider can’t help you reach them if they don’t know about them. So be as open and honest as possible during your visit.

Things to keep in mind

To avoid surprises, pay attention to these details as you get your visit on the calendar:

  • Make sure the appointment is scheduled specifically as an annual wellness visit, or the provider may bill it as a normal office visit, which could be subject to a copay, depending on your plan. For UnitedHealthcare members, a dedicated customer service advocate can even help schedule your appointment for you.
  • If your provider orders a test during the annual wellness visit, you may be charged any applicable lab or diagnostic copay for the recommended services.

The bottom line

When you are prepared, your annual wellness visit is more than just an office visit. It is your opportunity to take charge of your health and help ensure you’re on the right path to living the life you want. If you haven’t scheduled yours yet, use this as the push you need to get it on your calendar. It could be one of the most important conversations you have all year.

To learn more about how your Medicare plan can help you access the care you need, visit