Tips for becoming your own best health care advocate

(BPT) – When you think about health care, doctors and hospitals often come to mind, but it’s important to remember that the person staring back at you in the mirror may be your greatest health advocate. After all, no one knows your body or mind like you do. This is particularly important for the more than 52 million Americans enrolled in Medicare. Being an advocate for your health can help keep you well, and could save you money on your Medicare coverage, too.

The health care system is becoming more patient-centric, putting patients in the middle of all health care activities and asking them to work directly with doctors, family members and others to make major health decisions.

“One of the best things older adults can do for their health is to get the health care system working around them as a team,” said Tom Paul, chief consumer officer for UnitedHealthcare. “In order to successfully navigate this system, it’s critical that people get informed about their health, the care options available to them and how their Medicare coverage works.”

The following tips can help you get started:

* See your doctor. Original Medicare covers an annual wellness visit. Here you and your doctor can review your health care needs and make a plan for the future. Many Medicare Advantage plans also cover a full annual physical. When you meet with your doctor, make note of your height, weight, blood pressure and other routine measurements that are taken at this visit. Knowing and tracking your personal medical stats is important as you age. Also, take time to talk to your primary care doctor about all of the doctors you’re seeing and any prescription medications you’re taking to help ensure your care is well coordinated.

* Get screened and vaccinated. Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans offer preventive care benefits that make it easy for beneficiaries to access important screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies as well as vaccinations such as an annual flu shot. Many of these preventive services are covered completely by Medicare, with no out-of-pocket costs.

* Leverage extra benefits to help you stay healthy. If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, be sure to take advantage of programs and services available to you, which may include disease management programs or access to registered nurses who can answer health questions at any time, day or night. Some plans even offer extra benefits like a gym membership or routine hearing, vision or dental coverage.

* Stay in-network and know your prescription drug options. Most Medicare Advantage plans negotiate pricing with doctors, hospitals and pharmacies, which may translate into coordinated care and lower costs for members. You might be able to save additional money on your prescriptions by using mail-order pharmacy benefits, switching to generic or lower-tier drugs, or taking advantage of special programs and preferred pharmacy networks available with some plans.

By proactively managing your health and taking time to understand your health care coverage, you may be able to stay healthy, or return to health, while saving money. For more information, visit or

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