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Medicare to cover screening for alcohol misuse, depression

Consumer Reports News: October 17, 2011 04:08 PM

Add screening for depression and excessive drinking to the list of preventive services that Medicare beneficiaries can now get for free, thanks to new rules from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). And a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights the high economic cost of alcohol abuse.

Both excessive drinking and depression can be quickly determined by doctors and other health-care professionals in a routine exam, research suggests.

For example, Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., chief medical adviser to Consumer Reports, says that simply asking “How often do you have more than five drinks a night?” can help identify problem drinkers. (Any positive answer warrants more careful follow up, he says.) And we’ve reported that answering yes to either of the following questions warrants a more thorough evaluation of depression: Over the past two weeks, have you felt down, depressed, or hopeless? Have you felt little interest or pleasure in doing the things you generally enjoy?

Screening for depression and excessive drinking joins a long list of preventive services now covered for many (though not all) Medicare beneficiaries, including smoking cessation, bone-density testing, cholesterol and blood-sugar measurements, screening for breast and colon cancer, and vaccines against the flu and pneumonia. See for details.

The CDC report focused especially on the importance of screening for excessive drinking, noting that the cost of excessive alcohol consumption reached $223.5 billion or about $1.90 per drink. Almost three-quarters of the costs were due to binge drinking, consuming four or more alcoholic beverages per occasion for women or five or more drinks per occasion for men, the report said.

Read more about the risks and benefits of alcohol and how to identify and treat depression. And see our advice on managing Medicare.

Medicare covers screening and counseling for alcohol misuse and screening for depression [CMS]
CDC reports excessive alcohol consumption cost the U.S. $224 billion in 2006 [CDC]

Joel Keehn

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