June 20, 2011 / 10:02 PM / 8 years ago

Medicare preventive care use still spotty

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than five million Medicare recipients have used preventive healthcare services to date in 2011, and U.S. health officials are trying to accelerate that trend to combat crippling healthcare costs.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is launching a campaign to encourage Medicare recipients to take advantage of preventive services, including mammograms and prostate cancer screenings, in the hopes that early diagnosis and treatment will help save significant costs for the system.

The Obama administration’s healthcare overhaul, passed in early 2010, eliminated out-of-pocket costs for recommended preventive services and annual checkups at the beginning of this year. Healthcare costs are a central point of negotiation between Democrats and Republicans trying to tame spiraling U.S. debt.

But the uptake of services has been uneven, with one in six Medicare beneficiaries using at least one free service from January 1 through June 10, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

“For some services, utilization is slightly higher than in 2010; for some, it is about the same; and for a few services there is a slight drop,” said Ellen Griffith, a CMS spokeswoman. “All of this supports the need for the multi-pronged public awareness campaign we launched today.”

CMS estimates the U.S. could save two-thirds of the $2 trillion it spends on preventable long-term illness by preventing chronic illnesses in Medicare beneficiaries.

Reporting by Andrew Seaman; Editing by Tim Dobbyn

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