Senior Lifestyles

How Medicare helps seniors with diabetes

At a recent meeting of my staff, the topic of diabetes came up.

As we went around the table, it turned out that 25 percent of the staff have problems with blood sugar. That figure exactly matches the percentage of Americans 65 years old and up who have diabetes or pre-diabetes.

I’m shocked that so many Americans are affected by this disease, because it’s a nasty one. If left uncontrolled, diabetes can lead to some really bad outcomes, including kidney problems, glaucoma and other eye disorders, foot ulcers, amputation of feet or legs, stroke, diabetic coma and even death.

The good news is that people with diabetes can avoid many of these negative outcomes if their disease is diagnosed, treated and controlled.

If your doctor thinks you’re at risk for diabetes, Medicare covers screening tests for it. And if you develop the disease, Medicare covers a wide variety of medications, home testing equipment, supplies and self-management training to help you cope with it.

Screening tests are used to detect diabetes early. Conditions that may put you at risk for diabetes:

• High blood pressure

• Obesity (with certain conditions)

• Impaired glucose (blood sugar) tolerance

• High fasting glucose

• A history of abnormal cholesterol and triglycleride levels (Dyslipidermia)

Medicare coverage

Medicare will pay for two diabetes screening tests in a 12-month period. After the initial screening, your doctor will determine when to perform the second test.

You and your doctor can discuss diabetes and any other health concerns you have during a “Welcome to Medicare” visit. Medicare covers this one-time review of your health, including counseling on any screenings, shots or other care you may need. (You must have this visit within the first 12 months you’re enrolled in Medicare Part B.)

In addition, Medicare covers an annual wellness visit with your doctor.

If you develop diabetes, Medicare pays for self-management training to help you learn how to successfully manage the disease.

Medicare Part B coverage

Generally, Medicare Part B (medical insurance) covers services and supplies needed by people who have or are at risk for diabetes. Medicare Part D (the prescription drug program) helps pay for supplies for injecting or inhaling insulin.

Items covered under Part B:

• Home blood-sugar monitors and related supplies, such as test strips, lancet devices, and lancets

• Foot exams and treatment (needed by people with diabetic peripheral neuropathy and loss of protective sensation)

• Glaucoma tests

• External insulin pumps and insulin the devices use

• Therapeutic shoes or inserts

Items covered under Part D include drugs for maintaining blood sugar and insulin that isn’t administered with a pump.

Controlling diabetes

You can do many things to control your diabetes.

• Talk with your doctor about what, how much and when to eat. Also talk with him or her about how much you should weigh, and the different ways you can reach your weight goal.

• Take your medications as directed, and discuss any problems you encounter with your physician.

• Be active for a total of 30 minutes most days. Keep tabs on your blood-sugar level, blood pressure and cholesterol.

• If you smoke, stop. Medicare covers counseling on how to quit smoking, if your doctor orders it.

For more information on Medicare and diabetes, read the brochure “Medicare’s Coverage of Diabetes Supplies & Services” at

Greg Dill is Medicare’s regional administrator. For more information, call (800) 633-4227.

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