An estimated 41% of U.S. adults skipped preventive healthcare appointments during the pandemic. As COVID-19 vaccinations spread hope after a bleak year, it’s time to get back on track and schedule important check-ups. If you are over age 65, you can take advantage of a free benefit: the Medicare Annual Wellness Visit (AWV).

“I strongly encourage our patients to take advantage of this free Medicare benefit,” said Kirsten Howell, Family Nurse Practitioner at Axis Health System’s Cortez Integrated Healthcare. “It offers a chance to talk about healthcare details that often get missed during a regular medical appointment.”

An AWV helps your care team catch potential health issues early, while they’re still easy (and less expensive) to treat. The AWV does not include tests, lab work or treatment; but it is a chance to talk about chronic health issues, including diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. If you’re at risk, you’ll receive useful health education. For example, if your blood work shows that you’re at risk of developing diabetes, your provider will recommend lifestyle changes to reduce your risk.

Older adults can use the AWV as a dedicated appointment to review recommend screenings and plan for their future. “This visit helps optimize your health using proven preventive strategies,” said Dr. Jill Rimmey, DO, a provider at Axis Health System’s La Plata Integrated Healthcare in Durango. “It gives a framework for setting a comprehensive health plan for each patient.”

It’s very important that when someone calls to make an appointment, they use the magic words “Medicare Annual Wellness Visit.” Otherwise patients may think they are making an appointment for an AWV but instead they request a “physical,” which has a cost associated with it. 

What is the Annual Wellness Visit?

  • The purpose of the AWV is to establish and maintain a personal preventive care plan.
  • This visit is for talking with your care team about your medical history, your risk for certain diseases, the current state of your health and your plan for staying well.
  • A nurse will measure your height, weight and blood pressure.
  • You may be referred for screenings or services outside of the appointment.

How is the AWV different from other visits?

  • There are two types of annual wellness visits through Medicare. The first is the Welcome to Medicare preventive screening. It occurs during your first 12 months with Medicare Part B or Medicare Advantage. The second is the yearly Annual Wellness Visit, which you are eligible for once 12 months have passed since your initial Welcome to Medicare screening. Even if you miss your Welcome to Medicare visit, you may still take advantage of the yearly Annual Wellness Visit.
  • The AWV is not the same as a yearly physical exam. Make sure you ask to schedule “my Medicare Annual Wellness Visit” to receive the free benefit.
  • Your provider will not listen to your heart and lungs or check other parts of your body.
  • You will not get screenings or blood tests during this visit.
  • If you are not feeling well or are concerned about a medical problem, you should schedule another appointment.

When do I get an AWV?

  • You can receive an Initial AWV when you are no longer within 12 months of your eligibility date for Medicare Part B and have not received an AWV in the past 12 months.
  • You can schedule a subsequent AWV annually after your first AWV.

Who pays for it?

  • Medicare will pay for the Annual Wellness Visit, so you will have no out of pocket expense.
  • You might have a co-pay for some follow-up screening services and visits.
  • If you receive additional tests or services during the same visit that aren’t covered under these preventive benefits, you may have a co-pay and the Part B deductible may apply.

What to expect during an AWV

  • A nurse will take your vitals – height, weight and blood pressure – and talk to you about your medical and social history.
  • You will take a vision test and talk about current conditions, medications and any health concerns you may have.
  • You will be screened for depression, as older adults are at heightened risk.
  • You and your provider will discuss risk factors, as well as possible treatment options. He or she may also recommend further preventive screenings and shots, if your medical history indicates the need.
  • Your provider will explain advance directives and planning to ensure you receive the type of care you want in the event you are no longer able to speak for yourself.

What to bring to an AWV

  • A list of the members on your healthcare team including any specialists.
  • The names of your home health agency and medical equipment supply companies (ex. oxygen supplier).
  • The names and locations of the pharmacies you use.
  • A copy of your Advance Directive, if you have one, and your insurance card.
  • Please bring a bag with all of the medicines you take including over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and herbals.

Find a local Medicare provider

Axis Health System providers accept Medicare. You can schedule your Medicare Annual Wellness Visit in Durango, Cortez or Pagosa Springs. To find the location nearest you, click here.