Medicare steps up the fight against diabetes

The pre-diabetes diagnosis

In addition to the 30 million Americans with diabetes, 86 million live with pre-diabetes, in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough for diabetes diagnosis.

Pre-diabetes is treatable. But only 1 in 10 people with the condition will know they have it. Left untreated, 1 in 3 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 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% of their weight, which health authorities say is enough to reduce the risk of full-blown diabetes. Through adopting a healthier lifestyle, people diagnosed with pre-diabetes can delay the onset of the disease.

Expanding coverage

Based on the trial programs encouraging results, Medicare is expanding its coverage for diabetes prevention. Using the pilot project as a model, it will help pay for a counseling program at improving beneficiaries' nutrition, increasing their physical activity and reducing stress.

If you have Medicare's Part B or Part, you can enroll in a series of coaching sessions, and you can enroll in a series of coaching sessions. There will be no out-of-pocket costs.

You can find out more about this new benefit in the 2019 edition of the Medicare and You handbook, which was mailed recently to everyone with Medicare.

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 diabetes cases before they even start, we can help people live longer and fuller lives, as well as save money in our health care system.

Bob Moos is the Southwest public affairs officer for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.