There’s still no such thing as a free lunch, but would you settle for a flu shot with a price tag of $0.00, or gratis medication to help you stop smoking? Those freebies—and others—will be coming your way, regardless of what health insurance plan you choose for coverage starting in January 2014, when some of the biggest changes under the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) kick in.
Specifically, the ACA details certain preventive services that are included at no extra cost to all Americans (that means no co-pay, either). That’s a certainty for any plan bought through the insurance marketplaces that will open in every state by October 1, 2013. Even if you buy the lowest-cost plan—the one that only kicks in if you have some sort of medical catastrophe—you’ll still get these freebies. Have insurance through your job? Many employer-based plans now offer these services at no cost for members as well.
Under Obamacare/ACA, women also get a free checkup each year, in addition to some free screenings and tests. Men do have to pay for a visit, but guys will get some of the screenings and vaccines for free. In some cases—such as with a flu shot—you may have to lay out the cash and then be reimbursed by your insurer. That’s likely to happen if you get your shot at a chain pharmacy instead of the doctor’s office. But some of those chains also offer their own discounts—around 10 to 20 percent off whatever you buy—for people who roll up their sleeves for the shot in the stores at the same time.
Here are nine tests, screenings, and treatments all adults will soon be able to get for exactly no moolah:
• Blood pressure screening
• Depression screening
• Obesity counseling and screening
• STD (sexually transmitted disease) prevention counseling for adults at increased risk
• Smoking-cessation interventions, including counseling and medication
• Some vaccines (some are included if you missed your teenage booster) including: an annual flu shot; human papillomavirus (HPV, which can protect against certain cancers); measles/mumps/Rubella (MMR); a vaccine against a type of meningitis; chicken pox; and tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis, or whooping cough, which has made a comeback in some states
• Birth control for women (under most plans; doesn’t include all brands, though)
• Breastfeeding counseling and supplies
• Domestic violence screening and counseling
Keep in mind that if a screening or test turns up a problem that requires more investigation, the typical costs—including deductibles and co-pays—will kick in.
Mara Youdelman, managing attorney for the Washington, D.C. office of the National Health Law Program, an advocacy and assistance group, says the addition of free preventive care is “very important since young adults may otherwise go without [it] because of costs. Given that many young adults may be in their first jobs and living paycheck-to-paycheck, having free care—and particularly preventive care—will be essential to ensure real access,” Youdelman says.
Which of these freebies are likely to save you real money? Is there anything in the list you’ll take advantage of now that it’s free?