If you’re new to Medicare, you might be surprised to know just how many wellness and preventive care benefits are available, often at no cost to you. The Medicare yearly wellness visits are different from the other Medicare yearly exams, because it focuses more on identifying health risks and developing or updating your personal risk prevention plan. Here’s what you should know about your Medicare yearly wellness visits.

Who is eligible for the Medicare yearly wellness visits?

If you have Part B (either under Original Medicare or a Medicare Advantage plan), you can get a yearly wellness visit once a year, beginning 12 months after you first enrolled in Medicare. Medicare generally waives the Part B deductible and any coinsurance or copayment amounts for these visits, so there is usually no out-of-pocket cost to you.

Note, however, that your doctor may recommend and perform other tests and services during your Medicare yearly wellness visits, such as blood work or x-rays. These services fall under normal Medicare payment guidelines, so you may have to pay a deductible, copayment, or coinsurance amount for these extra services beyond the Medicare yearly exam.

What’s included in Medicare yearly wellness visits?

These visits are not the same as annual physicals or other Medicare yearly exams. Your health care provider will ask you several questions to help identify any potential risk factors to your health and work with you and your family members and caregivers to develop a plan to keep you as healthy as possible.

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Medicare yearly wellness visits include three parts:

  • Collecting your health information. Your health care provider will ask about your current medications, family history, and past medical and surgical history. He or she may also talk to you about home safety and your risk for falls.
  • Performing a health assessment. In this part of the visit, your doctor will record basic health measurements, such as your height, weight, and vital signs. He or she will also assess for signs of cognitive impairment and depression.
  • Counseling and screening. Finally, your doctor will prepare a written screening schedule for you, which shows the preventive services you should get, such as vaccinations, cancer screenings, or nutritional counseling. You may also get referrals for smoking cessation or weight loss counseling if your doctor thinks they are necessary.

Your health care provider may also talk to you about end-of-life planning and advance directives during the Medicare yearly wellness visits. If you are ready to make decisions about managing your health care or if something happens and you are unable to speak for yourself, your provider may help you complete and sign the relevant advance directives paperwork.

How do I prepare for Medicare yearly wellness visits?

If you are seeing a new doctor for your Medicare yearly exams, it’s important to call your old doctor to get a copy of your medical records, especially your immunization record.

CMS suggests learning as much about your family health history as possible before your visit to help your doctor determine if you are at a higher risk for certain conditions and diseases that tend to run in families.

You should also bring a complete list of any over-the-counter and prescription medications you take, how often you take them, and why you take them. If you have a caregiver, it may be a good idea to have that person with you for the Medicare yearly wellness visits, because he or she may be able to give your doctor more insight into your health situation and potential risks.