By MTavenner & Elena Rios
February 15, 2016 at 5:00 am ET
For the first time in 25 years, the number of new diabetes cases occurring in the U.S. has declined, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is a tremendous achievement. This progress is due, at least in part, to greater collaboration between the communities we represent – physicians and health plans.
Our respective communities are working together – more than ever before – to deliver better care for those at risk of diabetes as well as to support public policy that encourages the adoption of proven models of care delivery that benefit patients.
While we should celebrate our progress as a nation in the fight against diabetes, we should also recognize that our work is far from complete. One area that stands out is the challenge that remains in the Hispanic community.
More than 10 percent of Hispanics over the age of 20 have diabetes. Hispanics are almost twice as likely to develop diabetes compared to non-Hispanic whites. In fact, a poll from the Harvard School of Public Health found that nearly one in five Latinos said diabetes is the biggest health issue facing their families.
Among the solutions helping to stem the tide of diabetes, particularly among Hispanics, is Medicare Advantage. Currently, almost 17 million Americans across the country are enrolled in Medicare Advantage, with approximately 44 percent of Hispanic beneficiaries choosing the program over traditional fee-for-service Medicare. The value of Medicare Advantage plans for Hispanics is evident in the resources the plans provide to address disparities in care for minority populations, but also in the Medicare drug coverage most MA plans provide. For beneficiaries with diabetes, coverage for the out-of-pocket costs of drugs like insulin is an important financial consideration.
Medicare Advantage goes beyond traditional Medicare to improve coordination among providers and clinicians so that patients benefit from holistic care. Studies show that individuals with diabetes enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans are more likely than those enrolled in traditional Medicare to receive the appropriate care for their condition. By providing devices to check blood sugar, tips on disease management, routine podiatry visits and vision exams, as well as additional diabetic supplies, Medicare Advantage plans provide patients and their families with the support they need to effectively manage their diabetes. We both recognize that diabetes prevention and care begins at home, which is why strengthening Medicare Advantage is critical.
Take Bertha Shinn of Las Vegas, the 2 millionth senior to join the Coalition for Medicare Choices (CMC), a national grassroots organization of Medicare Advantage beneficiaries united in support of high-quality Medicare health plan choices. After her diabetes worsened, Bertha could no longer afford her insulin. After enrolling in Medicare Advantage, her plan representative recommended that she enroll in a plan specifically for diabetes, which changed her out-of-pocket costs for a one-month supply of insulin from $1,500 to $2.50. She also participates in Medicare Advantage’s Silver Sneakers fitness program, which encourages seniors to increase their activity levels and lead a healthy lifestyle.
Though the number of new diabetes cases is on the decline, it remains a serious problem for millions of Americans. It’s up to us to remain diligent in our efforts against diabetes. Policymakers should not only celebrate the progress we have made as a nation, but also the programs, like Medicare Advantage, that have made it possible. We should protect and support those efforts that are making the difference.