Still, experts are more concerned about the number of tests Americans are not getting that could prevent serious illness and save lives. In 2008 (its most recent statistics), the CDC estimated that fewer than 25 percent of adults ages 50 to 64 were up to date with their colonoscopies, breast cancer screenings, and flu vaccines. Among people 65 and over, the record was somewhat better, but still only about 50 percent. Too many Americans wait until they're sick to seek medical attention, says Bryan Liang, executive director of the Institute of Health Law Studies at California Western School of Law in San Diego and a professor of anesthesiology at the University of California–San Diego School of Medicine. "We don't move until there's blood on the carpet," he says.
Now that cost has been removed as an excuse, here are some of the covered services Americans can—and should—get:
- Blood pressure screenings for adults age 18 and older every two years for those with normal readings and annually for those with elevated results.
- Cervical cancer screenings every three years for sexually active women.
- Child services, including screenings for autism at 18 and 24 months; iron supplements for children at 6 to 12 months who are at a greater risk for anemia; and at least one vision screening for children under age 5.
- Cholesterol screenings at least every five years for men age 35 and older and women age 45 and older. Additional screenings are covered for younger people at higher risk for heart disease.
- Colorectal cancer screenings of various types, including annual fecal occult blood testing and colonoscopies every 10 years for adults ages 50 to 75.
- Diabetes screenings every three years for adults with high blood pressure, even if they don't display symptoms of type 2 diabetes.
- Diet counseling by primary care physicians, nutritionists, or other specialists for all adults at risk for certain heart- or diet-related diseases. Coverage also extends to obesity screenings and counseling for all adults and children over 6.
- Evaluations for depression for people age 12 and older.
- Immunizations, including flu, hepatitis, human papillomavirus vaccine (for girls and young women ages 11 to 26), as recommended by the CDC. To find age-based schedules of covered immunizations, see the CDC's schedule.
- Mammograms for women ages 40 to 74 every two years. (The law goes beyond the task force recommendation to start at age 50.) Those at higher risk for breast cancer also can schedule a free consultation with their physician about the pros and cons of taking drugs that might reduce their chance of contracting the disease.
The entire list of copay-free services can be found at Healthcare.gov. Different carriers might have unexpected restrictions or qualifications in their guidelines for preventive services, cautions Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. For instance, a plan might not waive your copay if you happen to get a screening during a sick visit, Corlette says, because prevention wasn't the primary reason for going to the doctor. In addition, when the task force doesn't recommend a specific interval for a service, then the insurer is free to set its own. So consumers should check their individual policies each year to determine their coverage options.