Harvard Heart Letter

New from Medicare: Free counseling for heart disease and obesity

If you're a Medicare beneficiary, you can get one "intensive behavioral therapy" session aimed at preventing heart disease and weekly sessions for a month or more for help dealing with obesity — no copay required.

Both benefits are available only in a "primary care setting." For Medicare's purposes, that means the office of a general or family practitioner, internist, or geriatrician. Cardiologists don't seem to qualify as primary care physicians according to this definition, although some perform primary care functions. Medicare also won't pony up if these services take place in a hospital, outpatient surgery center, nursing home, or diagnostic testing facility.

Both programs focus on changing behavior to achieve agreed-upon goals. The cardiovascular program is a one-shot deal, and includes counseling about healthful eating. While it's aimed primarily at people with cardiovascular risk factors, if you already have heart disease, no conceivable harm could come from taking advantage of this free session.

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