09:13 AM

Are your employees getting the right health screenings?



For most health conditions, early detection means earlier treatment and a better chance for success. Here are the screenings and preventive services your employees should consider.

By Dr. Don Liss, Vice President & Chief Medical Officer

Today, the old saying An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure may no longer be true. Prevention might actually be worth a lot more.

Preventive care and health screenings can lead to much lower health care costs. That’s because these tests can help detect problems early on when they could be easier and less expensive to treat and can even help prevent or delay many chronic medical conditions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 100,000 lives could be saved if everyone in the U.S. received recommended preventive care.

With fully-covered preventive care benefits provided by employer-sponsored health plans, it’s easy for employees to take advantage of health screenings and preventive services. In fact, most come at no cost to Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey members.

Recommended screenings and preventive services

Here are some of the most important screenings and preventive services for adults, based on recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPTF) and the CDC.

Share these recommendations with your employees so they know who should get these tests and why they’re important for achieving their best health.

Many of these tests assess a person’s heart health. During February’s American Heart Month, encourage your employees to take special care to look out for their risk for heart disease, which can be prevented in many cases.

1. Blood pressure

Who needs it: Adults ages 18 and older who have not already been diagnosed with high blood pressure.

Why it’s important: High blood pressure is a serious condition that increases a person’s risk for heart attack, stroke, and kidney and heart failure. Screening – usually done using a blood pressure cuff wrapped around a person’s upper arm – and timely treatment can help prevent these conditions.

2. Cholesterol

Who needs it: Adults ages 40-75 with no history of heart disease or stroke and at least one cardiovascular risk factor. For adults with higher risk, treatment with statin medication is recommended.

Why it’s important: Abnormal levels of cholesterol and fats in the blood can build up inside blood vessels, leading to cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks or strokes.

3. Colorectal Cancer

Who needs it: Adults ages 50-75. People older than 75 should first talk with their doctors before screening due to potential risks.

Why it’s important: Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. Evidence shows that several different types of screening tests, including stool tests and colonoscopies, reduce deaths from CRC.

4. Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV

Who needs it: All women who are pregnant, and any person ages 15 or older at increased risk, such as those who do not correctly and consistently use a condom, or have multiple sex partners.

Why it’s important: People with STIs can unknowingly pass on the infection to a partner because symptoms aren’t always present. These infections can lead to severe conditions, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, cancer and death. Screening is done through a blood test, with the goal of early detection so STIs can be treated as early as possible.

5. Depression

Who needs it: Any adult ages 18 or older, including women who are pregnant and those who have recently given birth.

Why it’s important: One of the leading causes of disability in adults, depression crosses all ages, races, and social and economic groups. It can have a major impact on a person’s quality of life, increasing the risk of suicide. The goal of screening – usually performed with a questionnaire – is to identify the condition early so people can get the treatment they need.

6. Type 2 Diabetes

Who needs it: Adults ages 40-70 who are overweight or obese and do not have symptoms of diabetes

Why it’s important: Type 2 diabetes, which occurs when people have abnormally high levels of blood sugar, can lead to heart disease and stroke. Millions of people don’t know that they have the disease, and many more have a condition called pre-diabetes, which can develop into type 2 diabetes if they don’t take action to halt its progress. Simple blood tests can screen for these conditions, so affected people can make lifestyle changes or take necessary medications.

7. Hepatitis B and C

Who needs it: For hepatitis B, any adult at high risk, and pregnant women in their first trimester. For hepatitis C, adults at high risk or those born between 1945 and 1965.

Why it’s important: Both forms of hepatitis are viruses that can damage the liver; they can also be passed through infected blood and bodily fluids, and with hepatitis B, from mother to baby at birth. If blood tests reveal the presence of disease-fighting proteins that react to each virus, treatment is possible with antiviral medicines. For hepatitis B, a vaccine is very effective at preventing the disease before it’s contracted.

8. Breast Cancer

Who needs it: Women ages 50-74 should receive a mammogram – an X-ray picture of the breast – every two years. Depending on their individual situations, some women should consider mammography. 

Why it’s important: Breast cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosed in women in the U.S. Early detection can lead to effective treatments such as surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or hormone treatment.

9. Cervical Cancer

Who needs it: Women age s 21-30, screening should be done by a Pap test every three years. For women ages 30-65 years, screening can be done by a Pap test every three years, a high-risk HPV test every five years, or a Pap test plus a high-risk HPV test every five years.

Why it’s important: In its early stages, cervical cancer causes no symptoms. But if it’s treated at this early stage, cervical cancer or precancer can usually be cured. Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

10. Lung Cancer

Who needs it: A low-dose CT scan should be performed on adults who are ages 55-80, who have a history of heavy smoking,  are current smokers or who have quit within the past 15 years.

Why it’s important: Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., and smoking is the biggest risk factor. The most common type of lung cancer – non-small cell lung cancer – can sometimes be cured if it is found and treated early enough.

11. Adult Immunizations

Who needs them: All adults need a seasonal flu (influenza) vaccine and Td or Tdap  (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) vaccine. Depending on your health, other vaccines may be recommended by the CDC here.

Why it’s important: Vaccines can help prevent diseases that cause serious illness and hospitalizations in thousands of adults in the U.S. every year.

Getting the right screenings at the right time

It’s important to encourage your employees to take advantage of preventive care. Early disease detection can help decrease your overall health care costs because it’s much more cost-effective to screen for diseases instead of treating them when they get out of control.

Here are some quick tips to help your employees use the preventive services included in their health plan:

  • Communicate. Making your employees consistently aware of the care available to them will make it more likely that they seek our screenings and preventive services.
  • Educate. Help your employees understand what is covered at no cost. For example, when a doctor orders a screening test to prevent illnesses before they are causing problems or symptoms, it will normally be covered as a preventive service under your insurance plan. However, if the same screening test is ordered after symptoms are apparent – for example, pain or bleeding – then it would be considered diagnostic. The test would be covered but not at no cost like a preventive screening.
  • Stay informed. Preventive services covered by your plan change periodically, based on recommendations from the USPTF and CDC.

Most of these screenings can be administered by a primary care physician, often during a yearly wellness exam. If employees need to find a primary care doctor – or are looking to change their provider – Horizon BCBSNJ members can always use the Doctor & Hospital Finder tool.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, most insurance plans cover many screening tests at no cost to members. Medicare also fully covers many screenings. Employees can check their Horizon BCBSNJ plan at horizonblue.com to find out what screenings are covered, or they can call Horizon BCBSNJ at 1-800-355-BLUE (2583).

Getting ahead of any health problems before they get out of control should be high on the list of anyone’s priorities. And health screenings are a great place to start.