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Are you at risk for AAA?

Don’t miss out on this important free screening!

Recognizing the importance of good vascular health, Medicare offers a one-time abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) ultrasound if you are at risk and receive a referral from your provider.

"People at risk are missing an opportunity to improve their health by not taking advantage of this covered screening," says Michael Deiparine, MD, vascular specialist at Midwest Aortic & Vascular Institute. "If you think you might be at risk, discuss your eligibility for screening with your health care provider. It's a potentially life-saving test."

What is AAA?

AAA is a ballooning of the aorta, the main artery from the heart. When left untreated, aortic ruptures can cause life-threatening internal bleeding. Screening can help determine if you need medical treatment for AAA.

Blood flows freely when this system is open, but as we age, our arteries tend to thicken, get stiffer, and narrow. To maintain an active lifestyle during our senior years, we need to make certain there are no weak areas or blockages in our vascular system. AAA is an enlargement of bulge that develops in a weakened area within the largest artery in the abdomen. The pressure generated by each heartbeat pushes against the weakened aortic wall, causing the aneurysm to enlarge. If the AAA remains undetected, the aortic wall continues to weaken, and the aneurysm continues to grow. Eventually, the aneurysm becomes so large, and its wall so weak, that rupture occurs. When this happens there is massive internal bleeding, a situation that is usually fatal. The only way to break this cycle is to find the AAA before it ruptures.

Should I be worried?

AAA can be safely treated or cured with early diagnosis. Nearly 200,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with AAA annually; approximately 15,000 of these cases may be severe enough to cause death if not treated. This Medicare screening benefit is expected to save thousands of lives.

Are there symptoms?

Most people feel no symptoms - AAA is often detected when tests are conducted for other unrelated reasons. Those with symptoms describe them as:

  • A pulsing feeling in their abdomen

  • Unexplained, severe pain in their abdomen or lower back

  • Pain, discoloration, or sores on their feet (rare symptom)

What is the screening procedure?

Ultrasound screening is a painless, safe, and accurate way to detect AAA.

What should I do if my screening indicates there is AAA?

See a vascular surgeon. They are the only physicians treating vascular disease today who can perform all the treatment options available, including medical management, minimally invasive endovascular angioplasty and stent procedures, and open bypass surgery. Only when you see a vascular surgeon who offers all treatment modalities will you be assured of receiving the care that is most appropriate.

Who is at risk?

Medicare considers you at risk for AAA if:

• You have a family history of AAA

• Or, you are a man age 65-75 and have smoked 100 or more cigarettes in your lifetime

Keep in mind that Medicare only covers the AAA ultrasound once in your lifetime. If your provider suggests that you receive a second AAA ultrasound, Medicare may deny coverage. This means you would be responsible for the full cost of the service. Be sure to ask why your provider is recommending that you receive more than one AAA ultrasound, and how much you may have to pay for it.

What is the cost?

If you qualify, Original Medicare covers a one-time AAA screening at 100 percent of the Medicare-approved amount when you receive the service from a participating provider. This means you pay nothing (no deductible or coinsurance). Medicare Advantage Plans are required to cover a one-time AAA ultrasound without applying deductibles, copayments, or coinsurance when you see an in-network provider and meet Medicare’s eligibility requirements for the service.

During the course of your AAA screening, your provider may discover and need to investigate or treat a new or existing problem. This additional care is considered diagnostic, meaning your provider is treating you because of certain symptoms or risk factors. Medicare may bill you for any diagnostic care you receive during a preventive visit.

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