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Blue Cross Blue Shield
Jan.-Feb. 2012, Vol. XXVII, No. 1
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Medicare expands coverage for some preventive screenings

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has announced that Medicare now covers annual screenings for alcohol misuse and depression.

According to CMS, screenings for excessive drinking are covered when they take place in primary care settings such as a physician's office and are done by a physician or nurse practitioner. Coverage also includes four behavioral counseling sessions annually from a primary care provider if deemed necessary.

What's considered excessive? For women, the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines heavy or high-risk drinking as consuming more than three drinks on any day or more than seven drinks total per week. For men, heavy or high-risk drinking is defined as having more than four drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks total during the week.

Screenings for depression are covered when done in primary care settings with staff resources to provide appropriate follow-up treatment and referrals. Among people age 65 and older, one of six suffers from depression, CMS says. Symptoms of depression can include persistent feelings of sadness or guilt, decreased interest in formerly pleasurable activities, and suicidal thoughts.

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