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Help stop chronic disease before it starts: How finding the right Affordable Care Act plan can help you stay healthy

Here are 9 potentially life-saving reasons why you should choose an ACA health insurance plan.

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The holidays are about more than just gift-giving and spending time with your extended family. They also mark the period when Open Enrollment for the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) Health Insurance Marketplace starts up again.

This year, you have until January 15, 2022 to enroll, re-enroll, or change your health insurance plan.

You may wonder why you even need health insurance in the first place, especially if you’re young and healthy. Depending on a bunch of factors, including your family history, diet, and weight, your health circumstances could change in an instant. You might then need coverage for anything from a routine doctor’s visit to something a lot more serious.

Need a good reason to start thinking long-term about your health? Currently, 60% of Americans live with at least one chronic disease, such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, according to the CDC, these types of chronic diseases are “the leading causes of death and disability in America.”

But what if you had a way to predict future chronic conditions before they happened? One of the best ways to prevent chronic diseases, like diabetes and heart disease, is by staying up to date on preventive care, says Michael Hochman, M.D. (Hochman is a Los Angeles–based general internist.) That could include everything from annual check-ups and vaccines to bloodwork and screening tests.

Even better? Most health plans cover a series of preventive services at no cost to you, including plans available in the ACA marketplace.

Find out what preventive care services are offered on ACA plans available to you at no additional cost by speaking with a licensed insurance agent at 1-800-273-8115.

So what exactly can you do to help prevent the onset of chronic diseases? Here’s a look at some of the preventive care services that most healthcare plans cover free of charge.

(1) Colorectal cancer screenings. Just this year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force made a recommendation to doctors to start screening their patients who have an average risk for colon cancer at age 45, instead of 50. And if you have a family history of the disease or certain inflammatory bowel conditions like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, your doctor may recommend screening even earlier.

“Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the country and the second leading cause of cancer death, but it can be prevented almost entirely through early detection by screening,” says William Li, M.D., and president of the Angiogenesis Foundation, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

What’s the best way forward? Dr. Li recommends a colonoscopy, which allows your doctor to examine you for growths, or polyps, that form in your large intestine and could eventually lead to cancer.

It’s worth noting that your doctor can remove those potentially harmful polyps during a colonoscopy, helping to stop cancer where it starts.

(2) Mammograms. This statistic says it all: 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer during her lifetime. One of the best ways to catch breast cancer early on? Through a mammogram, or an X-ray of the breasts, which can help find early signs of breast cancer that you or your doctor might not be able to see or feel during an office or home exam. In general, most health plans completely cover a screening mammogram for women over the age of 40.

“The death rates of breast cancer have been steadily dropping over the last several decades, and one reason is because women are getting regular mammograms,” says Li.

(3) Vaccines. All ACA Marketplace plans and most private insurance plans must cover certain vaccines for free when they’re provided by an in-network provider.

These include the Hepatitis A and B vaccines, the flu and shingles vaccine. These are all diseases that can cause permanent damage, and could lead to more serious chronic illnesses such as heart or liver disease, notes Li. Another important vaccine that is covered is the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, which protects you against HPV, a virus that can cause cervical, throat, or rectal cancer.

(4) Annual wellness exams. Routine visits at the doctor’s office are very important, says Dr. Hochman. They not only allow you to check in with your doctor about what you might need as far as preventive care — whether you need updated bloodwork or a tetanus shot, for example — but they also give you some time to get to know him or her.

“It helps to build rapport and trust, which is really important,” Dr. Hochman explains.

You can chat with your provider about your family health history, to make sure it doesn’t raise your risk of future health problems. Your doctor will also check your body mass index (BMI) to make sure you’re at a healthy weight, which can help keep your risk for developing chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes or heart disease in check.

(5) Bone density testing. You might feel strong on the outside, but your bones could be telling a completely different story. One of the best ways to make sure your bones are strong is through a bone density test, which is similar to an X-ray.

You can add your bone density test to the “covered” column too: It’s covered for all women over the age of 65, or women age 64 and younger who have gone through menopause.

A routine bone density test can also tell you if you’re at risk for more serious conditions like osteoporosis, a disease that thins or weakens the bones. And if you are at a high risk, you can take steps to help prevent osteoporosis — or prevent it from worsening — such as adding more calcium and vitamin D to your diet (eating more leafy green veggies), staying active, and avoiding cigarettes and alcohol.

(6) Bloodwork. If your doctor orders bloodwork during your annual visit, some of the blood tests will be fully covered, like cholesterol or type 2 diabetes screenings.

“Even other common labs, like a blood count, are often also considered preventive services as long as they’re coded as routine health maintenance,” notes Dr. Hochman.

(7) Nutrition counseling. Need more of a push to get your diet on the straight and narrow? If you’re obese, or overweight and have other heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and elevated blood glucose levels, you may be eligible for nutritional counseling at no extra cost to you, if it’s provided by your insurance.

(8) Cervical cancer screening. Another important way for women to block a potential cancer diagnosis: tests such as a Pap smear or an HPV test.

For each test, the doctor collects cells from a woman’s cervix to look for signs of cancer. And under ACA guidelines, most insurance plans must cover this screening.

(9) Depression screening. If you’ve been feeling down, and it’s getting worse, you may be suffering from depression. Usually, during routine visits, your doctor can screen you for depression, says Dr. Hochman.

While treating depression is important for your overall mental health, it's also important for your physical health. That's partly because when you're feeling down, it can be harder to stick to healthy habits like exercise and eating well.

Testing you for depression is especially important, because it has been shown to increase your risk for heart disease.

The bottom line: Taking advantage of preventive health screenings today can help keep you feeling your best now and in the future.

This article contains information that is not compiled by UnitedHealthcare or any of its subsidiaries. UnitedHealthcare does not represent all the information provided are statements of fact. Please consult directly with your primary care physician if you need medical advice.

Source List:

American Cancer Society. "Key Statistics for Colorectal Cancer." Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/about/key-statistics.html. Accessed December 3, 2021.

American Heart Association. "How Does Depression Affect the Heart?" June 22, 2021. Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/mental-health-and-wellbeing/how-does-depression-affect-the-heart.

American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy. "Understanding Polyps and Their Treatment." Retrieved from https://www.asge.org/home/for-patients/patient-information/understanding-polyps. Accessed December 3, 2021.

BreastCancer.org. "Breast Cancer Facts and Statistics." February 4, 2021. Retrieved from https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "8 Strategies for a Healthy Spring." October 21, 2021. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/index.htm.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Vaccine (Shot) for Human Papillomavirus." November 16, 2021. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/diseases/hpv.html.

Health.gov. "Get a Bone Density Test." Retrieved from https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/topics/doctor-visits/screening-tests/get-bone-density-test. Accessed December 3, 2021.

Health.gov. "Get Screened for Cervical Cancer." Retrieved from https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/topics/doctor-visits/screening-tests/get-screened-cervical-cancer. Accessed December 3, 2021.

Healthcare.gov. "Preventive care benefits for adults." Retrieved from https://www.healthcare.gov/preventive-care-adults/. Accessed December 4, 2021.

Healthcare.gov. "Preventive care benefits for women." Retrieved from https://www.healthcare.gov/preventive-care-women/. Accessed December 3, 2021.

Healthcare.gov. "Preventive health services." Retrieved from https://www.healthcare.gov/coverage/preventive-care-benefits/. Accessed December 3, 2021.

Mayo Clinic. "Colonoscopy." Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/colonoscopy/about/pac-20393569. Accessed December 3, 2021.

SEER. "Cancer Stat Facts: Female Breast Cancer." Retrieved from https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/breast.html. Accessed December 3, 2021.

UnitedHealthcare. "Breast cancer screening and diagnosis." Retrieved from https://www.uhc.com/health-and-wellness/health-topics/cancer/breast-cancer/breast-cancer-screening-and-diagnosis. Accessed December 3, 2021.

UnitedHealthcare. "Preventive care." Retrieved from https://www.uhc.com/health-and-wellness/preventive-care. Accessed December 3, 2021.

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. "Colorectal Cancer: Screening." May 18, 2021. Retrieved from https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/recommendation/colorectal-cancer-screening.

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