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Dr. Therese Bartholomew Bevers has met a lot of worried women while working as the medical director of the cancer prevention center at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Many patients there face a high genetic risk of breast cancer, and they want to talk to a doctor about their options for preventing the disease. But that can be expensive. "If they have to pay out-of-pocket for counseling, price becomes a deterrent," Bevers says.

As of this year, price will no longer be a hurdle when it comes to preventative health care. That's because the health care reform law requires insurance carriers to waive co-pays and other fees that they formerly charged for many services designed to keep people healthy. Specifically, the law bans cost sharing for services rated "A" or "B" by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF); immunizations recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and screenings suggested by the Health Resources and Services Administration.

Free is always good, and for some patients it may even be lifesaving. For example, women no longer have to pay for annual cervical cancer screenings, or tests for sexually transmitted diseases. Pregnant women can get a host of free preventive exams, plus counseling on how to breastfeed. And all women can get mammograms and genetic testing for the BRCA breast cancer gene. Bevers believes many of these newly free services will help women and their doctors become smarter about preventing disease. "It's critical that we make recommendations based on levels of risk," Bevers says.

Medicare patients can also get a host of new services at no charge. In addition to receiving a "Welcome to Medicare" physical exam, seniors can now receive an annual wellness visit, plus a personalized prevention plan -- all for free. The prevention plan includes tests for cognitive impairments, recommended interventions for people at risk for a list of diseases, and a 10-year plan for staying healthy.

For example, the USPSTF recommends that men between 65 and 75 years old be screened for abdominal aortic aneurysm -- a ballooning of the vital blood vessel that supplies the abdomen, pelvis and legs. If the aneurysm bursts, it can be deadly. Preventing such a complication by getting a picture taken of the aorta is simple, says Gary Rogg, an internist at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y.

"It's a very safe, noninvasive ultrasound," Rogg says. If the test detects an aneurysm that's about to burst, doctors can correct it with surgery. "There's zero downside to going for this test," especially now that it's free, Rogg adds.

High cholesterol can contribute to aortic aneurysms, so it's good news that cholesterol screening and dietary counseling appear on the USPSTF's priority lists. Also included is comprehensive nutritional counseling for obese children.

Some experts hope the cost savings will encourage more patients to be vigilant about their health risks. Last August, the Midwest Business Group on Health (MBGH) released results from a survey in which a staggering 88% of employees admitted that they didn't understand the value of preventive health services. More than 55% said they weren't motivated to stay healthy, and 47% confessed they were reluctant to take time out of their workday to get health screenings.

"Employers have to find ways to motivate their employees" to take advantage of free preventive services, says Larry Boress, the president and CEO of MBGH. "Many employers offer these great wellness programs, but they never communicate them to employees or their families. The communication has to get to the whole family."

In response to the new law, major carriers such as UnitedHealthcare have posted lists of tests and other services now offered free of charge. Boress says several employers are also testing programs in which they dole out financial rewards to employees who participate in preventive health programs.

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Before rushing to make appointments for all these screenings and checkups, though, keep some caveats in mind. If you signed up for a "grandfathered" health plan -- meaning your employer allows you to stick with a policy you had before health reform was passed -- you may not be able to get preventive services for free. That's because the rules don't apply to grandfathered plans.

If you have a newer plan, but it's one that requires a flat co-pay for office visits, you might have to pay something if you actually consult a doctor when you go in for the test. Say, for example, you visit your doctor complaining of sniffles and he reminds you that you're due for a cholesterol test. Even though the test is free, you may have to hand over a co-pay for conferring with the doctor about something else.

The best course of action: Review the lists of preventative services that now qualify for the health reform subsidy, then call your doctor to discuss which ones you should be having -- and which of those are free. As the old saying goes, it won't cost you anything. And it may make you healthier in the long run.

This article was reported by Arlene Weintraub for Reuters.