Medicare may now cover annual depression screenings

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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently proposed to cover annual screening for depression for Medicare beneficiaries in primary care settings.  We enthusiastically support this effort, but also feel that it is important to screen for both major depression and bipolar disorder at the same time so that proper diagnosis and treatment can be provided.

Many people we help find that they have been diagnosed with major depression, but after learning more through our education, they discover that they actually have bipolar disorder.  After receiving the proper medication, they can finally get well.

I founded the organization because I lost my brother Mark to suicide 20 years ago. He saw a primary care doctor the year he took his life, but they didn’t screen him for depression or ask questions that would have brought his illness to light.

Now, 20 years later, most primary care doctors still don’t screen for depression and people continue to take their lives, nearly 35,000 people a year. The highest rate of suicide is among the elderly, the Medicare population, and 75% of seniors who take their lives saw a doctor within a month of their death. Doing a simple screening would not only help to prevent these terrible deaths to suicide and improve peoples’ lives, they would also decrease our health care costs.

Seniors who suffer from untreated depression are much more likely to suffer from other medical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes and require more medical care from doctors and hospitals, further burdening our health care system. Kudos to CMS for proposing a process that will dramatically improve the health care system, greatly reduce the painful suffering of those with depression, and save peoples’ lives!

--Julie Totten, President and Founder, Families for Depression Awareness

Read the CMS memo about depression screening for Medicare patients

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