Preventive health care stops trouble before it starts.
Written by Kay Foley
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that over 100,000 lives could be saved each year if everyone in the U.S. received the preventive care doctors recommend, such as regular check-ups with their physician, screening for problems like high blood pressure, and immunizations against disease.
Thomas Hunt, M.D., professor and chair, Department of Family Medicine at Roseman University College of Medicine in Las Vegas, explained that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) advised the federal government on which preventive medical services are scientifically proven to increase longevity or improve quality of life. Insurance companies are obligated under the ACA to provide those services for free, with no deductible or co-pay, when delivered by a provider in the insurance plan’s network. Some companies that are “grandfathered in” don’t have a legal obligation to provide these services at no cost, but in order to compete, many are adding this coverage to their policies.
The ACA mandates that insurers cover annual visits to your doctor, and the doctor then decides which tests are appropriate according to your age, physical condition, family history, and many other factors. Most adults should get regular screenings for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and other chronic conditions that can cause severe problems, or even death, if left untreated.
“The two most important keys to longevity in older adults are flexibility and lung capacity.”
~ Dr. Stephanie Youngblood
For example, high blood pressure has been called “the silent killer” because victims can go for years without noticing any symptoms, although they are at increased risk for heart attack, stroke, aneurisms, and other deadly consequences. A simple test followed by prescription medicine and lifestyle changes can help keep the condition under control.
Your doctor may also recommend screening for various types of cancers, including mammograms for women, prostate exams for men, and colonoscopies for older adults or those with family histories of colorectal cancers. Any preventive screenings (those used to diagnose a disease) are covered under the ACA, although screenings ordered because the patient is already symptomatic are not included.
Well-child visits are covered by the ACA, to make sure your child is developing normally, to check vision and hearing, and to screen for problems like autism or sickle cell anemia.
What About Vaccinations?
Despite the recent controversy about vaccinations, the USPSTF recommends that all children be vaccinated against measles, mumps, whooping cough, and other so-called “childhood diseases.” This means that most insurance companies must provide them at no charge, which is good news for Nevada, which ranks 38th among the 50 states in the percentage of preschool children who are up to date with vaccinations.
Many adults could also benefit from protection against diseases like influenza, pneumonia, shingles, tetanus, and hepatitis. Some vaccinations are only effective for a limited number of years, while others offer lifetime protection against diseases that can have serious consequences. Hunt recommends you ask your doctor which vaccinations would be appropriate for you.
What to Do First?
Dr. Stephanie Youngblood, a chiropractor who has practiced in Las Vegas for 30 years, advises patients to get regular check-ups with their physician to discuss any concerns and to get tested for high blood pressure, cholesterol, and Vitamin D levels. She explained, “Vitamin D deficiency can be a precursor to many chronic illnesses.” She also recommended that adults get a spinal wellness check with their chiropractor to assess their spinal health, and then follow any recommended treatment protocols.
Youngblood said the two most important keys to longevity in older adults are flexibility and lung capacity. She recommends that her patients use regular stretching exercises to keep themselves limber, along with aerobic exercise to maintain lung capacity. Physical activity is also good at relieving stress, which can contribute to a variety of health problems.
“…everyone should see a physician at least once a year.” ~ Dr. Thomas Hunt
A focus on proper nutrition, such as eating more whole foods and avoiding processed foods and sugar, can also help maintain overall health. Youngblood recommends that her patients make an effort to get enough sleep and supplement their diets with essential fatty acids like those in fish oil, as well as taking a daily multivitamin.
Does Your Doctor Know You?
“It’s my personal belief that everyone should see a physician at least once a year,” stated Hunt. “It doesn’t have to be a complete physical workup. Instead, it’s a chance to catch up on things, discuss any concerns or worries you might have, and maybe learn about some new treatment for your medical issues.” It also helps to develop an ongoing relationship with the doctor, which can pay off when you get sick. For example, said Hunt, “If I know that you’re a stoic person who never complains, my level of worry about your symptoms is likely to be much higher than it would be for someone who’s constantly in the office complaining about minor ailments.”
Hunt, who has been practicing in Las Vegas since 1998, said when he consults with a patient, he recommends self-care as the first line of defense. This includes following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding “polluting the body” with drugs, smoking, and excess alcohol. He noted that safety measures, such as using seat belts while driving and wearing helmets while bike riding, may not be medical treatments, but they can also prevent injury and even save lives.
Isn’t it time to check with your insurance company to see which preventive services it covers? Then, make an appointment for a checkup with your physician and get the examination and screenings you need to make sure you stay healthy.