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Medicare Officials Say Seniors Losing Out On Free Health Services

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Medicare can do more for seniors and the disabled than simply cover their doctor bills after they get sick. The health insurance program will cover an array of shots and screenings that can prevent illness.

But not enough beneficiaries are taking advantage of those services, says Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt. Leavitt was to kick off a campaign Friday designed to increase the number of people who seek free flu and pneumonia shots, a physical exam as they enter Medicare, and screenings for osteoporosis, diabetes and certain cancers.

Most of the screenings require beneficiaries to pay only 20 percent of the cost.

``Because one chronic disease is often accompanied by complications, this effort will pay dividends for many years to come,'' Leavitt said.

Leavitt noted that Americans spend about $3.8 billion for diabetes-related hospitalizations. Roughly two-thirds of that expense could have been avoided with appropriate primary care, but only about half of all Medicare beneficiaries report having their blood sugar tested in the past year. That particular test is free, and so are the supplies and training that beneficiaries get to help them manage diabetes.

In another example, the five-year survival rate for people with early detection of colorectal cancer exceeds 90 percent. Yet, only about 59 percent of beneficiaries say they've had a colonoscopy.

Medicare provides health insurance coverage to about 43 million seniors and the disabled.

The first week of the campaign will focus on events in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine and Connecticut.
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