COMMENTARY: Medicare steps up its fight against diabetes
Diabetes affects as many as one in four older adults with Medicare. It costs hundreds of billions of dollars to treat and results in the loss of tens of thousands of lives every year.
If we could better control diabetes, we’d be taking a huge leap toward creating a healthier America.
Diabetes occurs when your body doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t respond to the insulin it does make. Insulin is what your body uses to process sugar and turn it into energy.
When too much sugar stays in your blood, it can lead to serious complications and even life-threatening problems, including heart disease, strokes and kidney damage.
Medicare is committed to fighting the diabetes epidemic.
If you’re on Medicare and at risk for diabetes, you’re covered for two blood sugar screenings each year at no out-of-pocket cost to you. Risk factors include high blood pressure, a history of abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels, obesity or a history of high blood sugar.
If you’re diagnosed with diabetes, Medicare will help pay for blood sugar self-testing equipment and supplies, as well as insulin and other anti-diabetic drugs. In the event of diabetic foot disease, it will also help pay for therapeutic shoes or inserts as long as your podiatrist prescribes them.
Because living with diabetes can pose day-to-day challenges, Medicare covers a program to teach you how to manage the disease. With a written order from your physician, you can sign up for training that includes tips for monitoring blood sugar, taking medication and eating healthy.
If you’d like to learn more about how to control diabetes, visit Medicare’s website at www.medicare.gov or call Medicare’s 24/7 help line at 1-800-633-4227 and visit with a counselor.
In addition to the 30 million Americans with diabetes, another 86 million live with a condition known as pre-diabetes, where blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis.
Pre-diabetes is treatable. But only one in 10 people with the condition will even know they have it. Left untreated, one in three will develop the full-blown disease within several years.
Confronted with those statistics, Medicare is ramping up its efforts to prevent diabetes among the millions of Medicare beneficiaries who are at a heightened risk of developing it.
Several years ago, Medicare partnered with YMCAs nationwide to launch an initiative for patients with pre-diabetes. The pilot project showed that older people could lose weight through lifestyle counseling and regular meetings that stressed healthy eating habits and exercise.
About half of the participants shed an average of 5 percent of their weight, which health authorities say is enough to substantially reduce the risk of full-blown diabetes. Through adopting a healthier lifestyle, people diagnosed with pre-diabetes can delay the onset of the disease.
Based on the trial program’s encouraging results, Medicare is now expanding its coverage for diabetes prevention. Using the pilot project as a model, it will help pay for a counseling program aimed at improving beneficiaries’ nutrition, increasing their physical activity and reducing stress.
If you have Medicare’s Part B medical insurance and are pre-diabetic, you’ll be able to enroll in a series of coaching sessions lasting one to two years and conducted by health care providers as well as community organizations like local senior centers. There will be no out-of-pocket cost.
Medicare is currently recruiting partners to offer the program so that it will be widely available to beneficiaries.
Diabetes can be a terribly debilitating disease. It can mean a lifetime of tests, injections and health challenges. Every five minutes in this country, 14 more adults are diagnosed with it. And in the same five minutes, two more people will die from diabetes-related causes.
If we can prevent more diabetes cases before they even start, we can help people live longer and fuller lives, as well as save money across our health care system.
By Bob Moos
Southwest public affairs officer
U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.