The yearly “Wellness Visit”

Catching things early is big with Medicare. Every year, all Medicare enrollees are eligible for a free “Wellness Visit” with their primary care doctor.

This is NOT an annual physical, so don’t use that term when making the appointment. Beyond basic vitals—height, weight, blood pressure, and pulse—there is no physical examination. If a physical exam is done, your loved one may have to foot the bill.

The yearly Wellness Visit is more of a conversation. The goal is to look at ways to avoid health problems or identify them early. The visit includes

  • a review of medications and medical history
  • a health risk questionnaire. This survey addresses lifestyle issues such as smoking, alcohol, and exercise
  • other questionnaires assess memory and thinking problems, depression, anger, and social isolation

Based on your relative’s responses, the doctor may recommend screening tests. The idea is to nip any problems in the bud. It is also a time for your loved one to discuss preferences for end-of-life care. (This is called “advanced care planning.”)

Important to note, this visit does NOT include treatment or management of your relative’s chronic conditions. Diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure certainly threaten wellness. But they are addressed separately. And tempting as it is to say, “While I’m here, doc, what about this pain in my knee,” that is also outside the bounds. Best to make another appointment or your loved one may be charged for the visit.

Different from the “Welcome to Medicare” visit
If this is your relative’s very first year on Medicare, they are entitled to a free “Welcome Visit.” This is similar to the Wellness Visit but includes other assessments. One for fall risks. Another to identify weight problems. The appointment may also address hearing and vision. These additional assessments are not part of the yearly Wellness Visit.