Here's what you should be doing every year.

Take Advantage of No-Copay Medical Care

If you are an American who is lucky enough to have health insurance, you almost certainly have several annual and semi-annual services available to you with no copay—and you have absolutely no reason not to use them. Technically, you have already bought them, as their cost is built into the premiums you’ve already paid; and your body will thank you for it! Even if you feel perfectly healthy, establishing a baseline of health will help your medical professionals detect problems early.

Here’s what you should be doing every year.

Annual physical

I just had mine this week. It took about half an hour, and I walked out with a better understanding of my current overall health. You can get a refresh on any medications you need. And if your insurance charges you extra to see specialists without a referral, an annual physical is a great time to troll your GP for those.

There are a lot of reasons not to go see the doctor, like fear of needles (Piggy’s case) or speculums (my case). But no blood was drawn—a single finger-stick was enough to give me a print-out of my glucose, cholesterol, and triglycerides. Best of all, pelvic exams are (for me) no longer a yearly necessity! Thank you, merciful Kapo, Hawaiian fertility goddess! I hope one day you see fit to bless me with the detachable vagina your prophetess Wanda Sykes has spoken of.

In general, if there’s any medical procedure that’s holding you back from going to see any doctor, just decline it. Your body is your own! No doctor can perform any procedure on you without your consent. They may scold you or try to change your mind, but it’s far better to exasperate them with select refusals than to never see them in the first place.

Please Note:

In the age of Obamacare, all preventative care in the United States should come at no cost to you. However, some doctors are sticklers to the terms of a “physical.” For example, if you ask them questions about your regular medications, or existing health issues, they may claim the visit to be a consultation rather than a physical, and charge you a co-pay. If cost is a concern, tell your doctor up-front “I cannot afford a co-pay, so please keep our discussion topics to what you consider to be within the parameters of an annual physical examination.” Then find another doctor, because they’re kind-of being a dick IMO.

Like Doctor Cox, but without the heart-of-gold.

Dental cleaning

Mine offers two per year plus X-rays; yours may be a bit different, so check first to see what’s supported and what’s not. If your dentist is good, they can alert you to problem areas before cavities form, and you can pay special attention to them while brushing to stave off a more expensive (and uncomfortable) fix.

Be picky about your dentist. I did not realize until I found a truly gentle and attentive dentist how manhandled I had been by past dentists. When I marveled at how I barely felt the oral shot he’d just given me, he sighed and told me that a lot of people in his profession didn’t take the time to do these kinds of procedures delicately. “Nothing a dentist does should hurt,” he told me. “If it does, it means you have a dentist who doesn’t care about your comfort and isn’t invested in making sure you come back.”

I have since moved away from the city where his office is located, but I super don’t care. I take an hour-long train ride to get to him.

Eye exam

If you need glasses or contacts, go for an annual eye exam and ask your optometrist office to assist you in figuring out what your insurance will reimburse you for. I get yearly lens allowances (for glasses or contacts) and an every other year credit towards glasses frames, and this is a pretty common set-up. In December of every year, if I haven’t gotten around to using it, I call my optometrist and ask her to order me as many contact lenses as I still have an allowance for. The right office is perfectly understanding and willing to help you out.

Also, if you wear glasses, don’t neglect to have them repaired and serviced as-needed. I had a pair I loved for ten months… when they were crushed in a tragic sex accident. My sheepish husband took them in to see if anything could be done, and it turns out that particular line comes under a “no questions asked” one-year warranty. I had a brand new pair by the end of the week.

(Also, FYI, if your partner wears a very strong prescription, and you lovingly take off her glasses while making out, make sure you set them on the bedside table—NOT just somewhere else on the bed. She will invariably have a great physical comedy routine lined up where she pretends to keep “missing” your penis during oral sex, which will make you both laugh a lot, until she takes it to the next level, because she’s very funny and totally committed to the bit, and she pretends to dive completely past your body, landing on the glasses she couldn’t see, because she assumed you put them on the bedside table like a sane person, and neither of you will be laughing.)

Flu shots

Many insurance companies (and even some schools and workplaces) will sponsor a yearly flu shot for you. I cannot argue in strong enough terms in favor of taking advantage of this. Here’s why.

I have a close friend (an ultra-healthy marathon runner in her mid-20s) who almost died from the common flu. Really. She felt a little sick on Tuesday, and by Thursday she was unconscious and on a ventilator in the ICU. She stayed that way for a harrowing week and only came home after physical therapy to learn how to breathe and walk on her own again. She missed her own wedding but escaped with her life, purely on the strength of her medical team, her wise decision to go to the hospital early, and her existing crazy-high level of fitness. My lazy ass would’ve been dead. I would not have been alone; 36,000 Americans die of it every year.

The total cost of her fight with the common flu came to just shy of one million dollars. Luckily, she was newly covered under Obamacare. I don’t believe she ended up paying a cent. Have I mentioned health insurance is pretty worth-it? Even if you’re not insured, many schools and offices offer them for free anyway. What money they lose in distributing the vaccine is recouped by increased productivity.

It’s true that flu shots don’t have a great success rate. It’s an illness with many rapidly-mutating strains, and the vaccine makers have to try to predict which strain is the biggest threat, yielding mixed results. But anything that cuts your odds of getting seriously sick is worth it—particularly if it is free.

Ye shall soar to health on the wings of an eagle.

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