Oct 8, 2021 Annual Medicare Visits Help Seniors Stay Healthy Year-Round

If you or a loved one has Medicare, one of its most important benefits is the annual wellness visit. This no-copay visit is not the same as an annual physical. Instead, it’s a chance for you and your provider to create a personalized preventative plan to help you stay well and get any help you may need.

Jessica Israel, MD
Jessica Israel, MD

“The annual visit is my favorite visit to have with patients because I really get a chance to talk to them and to hear about how they live every single day,” says Jessica Israel, MD, Senior Vice President, Geriatrics and Palliative Care, for RWJBarnabas Health and a member of RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group. “We touch on areas of the patient’s life that might not come up otherwise.”

The range of subjects covered is broad. “I ask about whether they have access to healthy foods and whether their teeth hurt when they chew,” Dr. Israel says. “I ask about throw rugs in their home that might be a tripping hazard, and whether they need safety bars in the shower. I ask if they have someone to call if they need help.”

Patients shouldn’t feel intimidated by these questions, but should welcome and even demand them. “You can never put too much value on what comes out of an honest conversation,” Dr. Israel says.

The Right Questions

Dr. Israel’s philosophy is shared by providers of geriatric care throughout the RWJBarnabas Health system and RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group. RWJBarnabas Health is a member of the Age-Friendly Health System action community, an initiative spearheaded by the John A. Hartford Foundation, the American Hospital Association and the Catholic Health Association of the United States.

Being an Age-Friendly Health System means applying four evidence-based elements of high-quality care, known as the 4M Framework, to all older adults. “We apply the 4Ms—medications, mobility, mentation and what matters—to elder health care in all our hospitals as well as outpatient settings, including in the annual wellness visit,” Dr. Israel says.

“For example, elderly people are often taking multiple medications because they have more than one health condition. We’ll ask about all of them to be sure there are no negative interactions or side effects,” she explains. “We’ll ask about mobility— how much and how well they’re moving around and whether physical therapy or equipment is needed. We’ll talk about areas related to mentation, or the mind—are there any issues with anxiety or depression, or perhaps forgetfulness?”

Equally important, she says, is the “what matters” aspect of the conversation, which covers patients’ goals for their health care and what they don’t want, as well as the importance of having an advance directive. “The ‘what matters’ talk will vary from patient to patient,” Dr. Israel says. “We have a saying in geriatrics: ‘If you’ve seen one 80-year-old, you’ve seen one 80-year-old.’ Each patient is different, and the art of medicine is getting to know your patients.”

Annual wellness visits are inevitably revealing, says Dr. Israel. “Each time, something comes up that I didn’t know about the patient,” she says. “Then, we can have the next discussion: ‘How can we make this better?’”

A Medicare Advantage Plan for New Jersey

Braven Health, a new Medicare Advantage offering, was created with New Jersey senior citizens in mind. A partnership between three New Jersey health care leaders— RWJBarnabas Health, Hackensack Meridian Health and Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey—Braven Health offers access to 51,000 in-network health care professionals and 82 in-network hospitals and health care facilities.

“Having a partnership between our medical system and Horizon together means that patients have a lot of choices in their network,” explains Jessica Israel, MD, a Braven Health Provider Council Member and Senior Vice President, Geriatrics and Palliative Care, for RWJBarnabas Health. “In addition, procedures and prescriptions get approved more quickly because we’re all working together with the goal of eliminating the hassle that can come with health care plans.”

Braven Health also helps patients focus on wellness by offering flexible benefits for a range of wellness activities, such as joining a gym, getting a mammogram, taking a fitness class and getting bars installed in the shower for safety.

Launched in January 2021, the plan is available for residents of Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Passaic and Union counties. (The program is not available in Somerset and Mercer counties.) As of May 31 this year, Braven had a higher enrollment than any other Medicare Advantage plan in the eight counties it serves.

Learn about Medicare programs.

Learn more about senior health care and geriatric medicine at RWJBarnabas Health.