Healthcare in the United States is expensive. US citizens pay more for health services than citizens of any other wealthy country, equating to around $12,000 per person.
Preventative care includes screenings, vaccinations, and counseling to prevent health problems.
Preventative care helps detect health problems early when they're most treatable and least expensive.
The Affordable Care Act requires that health insurance policies cover certain preventative services without cost-sharing.
People without insurance can get free or low-cost preventative care at community health centers and safety-net hospitals and clinics.
These services can be broken down into two categories: preventive and curative. Curative medical services are those that treat an existing illness or injury; preventive services help to protect people from developing health problems in the first place.
Health insurance plans offer different levels of coverage for preventive and curative services. For example, some plans may cover 100% of the cost of preventive care, while others may only cover a small percentage. However, preventative services are available for everyone regardless of health insurance status.
This article explores preventive care and which of these medical services are free in the US.
What is preventive care?
Preventive care encompasses services and screenings to prevent illnesses, diseases, and other health problems or identify them early when treatment is likely to be most effective. The aim is to reduce the risk of unfavorable health outcomes, such as medical emergencies, disability, or chronic disease.
Regular health screenings can identify problems before they become significant enough to cause symptoms. Not only do these screenings improve health outcomes, but they can also save money by avoiding the need for more extensive and costly treatments down the line.
Some common examples of preventive care include:
- Cancer screenings
- Blood pressure checks
- Cholesterol tests
- Diabetes screenings
- Vision and hearing tests
How do health insurance plans cover preventive care?
In the US, many preventive services are covered by health insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.
The ACA requires all health insurance plans to cover certain preventive services without cost-sharing. So people with this coverage won't pay a deductible, copayment, or coinsurance out of pocket for these services. This is true even if the person hasn't met their annual deductible.
Health plans must cover certain preventive services for adults and children.
Adult preventative services
Certain services are available for adults of a certain age or risk group, while others are available for everyone. Health insurance coverage for adult preventative services includes:
Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screenings — An AAA is a life-threatening ballooning or bulging of the aorta, which is the main artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
Alcohol misuse screenings and counseling — Drinking alcohol excessively increases the risk of developing chronic conditions such as liver disease, cancer, and heart disease.
Aspirin to prevent cardiovascular disease — This medication can prevent blood clots from forming, which may lead to a heart attack.
Blood pressure screenings — High blood pressure often has no symptoms but can damage the heart and lead to stroke.
Cancer screenings — Some types of cancer, such as colorectal, cervical, and breast cancer, can be detected early and treated before it spreads.
Cholesterol screenings — High cholesterol levels are a risk factor for heart disease.
Depression screenings — Depression is a common mental health condition that can lead to severe problems if left untreated.
Diabetes screenings — Diabetes is a chronic condition that can lead to serious health complications like heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.
Diet counseling — A healthy diet can help reduce the risk of developing chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Hepatitis and HIV screenings — These viruses can cause serious health problems, but they're treatable. HIV prevention medication is also available for those at high risk of infection.
Immunizations — Many shots are available to help prevent infections such as Chickenpox (Varicella), diphtheria, flu, measles, and tetanus.
Women's preventative services
In addition to the services listed above, health plans must also cover the following women's preventative services without any cost-sharing:
- Breastfeeding support
- Birth control
- Folic acid supplements
- Gestational diabetes screening
- Maternal depression screening
- Preeclampsia prevention and screening for pregnant women with high blood pressure
- Expanded tobacco intervention and counseling for pregnant tobacco users
Child preventative services
Vaccinations are an important part of preventive care for children. These immunizations help protect infants, children, and adolescents from 16 serious diseases, including:
- Chickenpox (Varicella)
- Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP)
- Haemophilus influenza type b
- Hepatitis A and B
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
The ACA also requires that health plans cover certain screenings and preventative care measures for children, including:
Newborns — Screenings include blood, sickle cell anemia, low thyroid hormones, congenital heart disease, hearing, vision, and phenylketonuria (PKU).
Children — Developmental checks, plus vision, blood pressure, weight, hearing, scoliosis, and dental screenings.
Adolescents — Screenings include alcohol, tobacco, and drug use, depression, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Is there preventative care for uninsured people?
Yes, some providers offer free or low-cost preventive care, regardless of insurance status. They include:
Free and charitable clinics — Medically underserved individuals with no access to insurance can receive care at free care at these clinics. You can find a list at the National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics.
Federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) — The federal government funds these community health centers. People pay what they can afford.
Safety-net hospitals and clinics — These health centers, also public hospitals, provide health care regardless of the ability to pay.
These facilities may offer preventative services such as vaccinations, cancer screenings, and immunizations.
Preventative care is an important part of staying healthy. It can help detect health problems early when they're most treatable.
The Affordable Care Act requires that health insurance policies cover certain preventive services such as screenings and immunizations without cost-sharing. There are also free and low-cost options for those without insurance.