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Tribune Editorial: Medicare should cover prevention

Cheers to U.S. Sen. Al Franken for a bipartisan proposal that could save the federal Medicare program billions of dollars by allowing millions of beneficiaries to take part in a proven diabetes-prevention program.

Co-sponsored by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Franken’s measure would provide Medicare beneficiaries with the National Diabetes Prevention Program, a structured, 16-session program focusing on healthy eating and physical activity.

It has been shown to reduce the onset of type 2 diabetes in those most at risk for the disease by nearly 60 percent.

Diabetes is one of the fastest-growing diseases in the United States; the Centers for Disease Control estimates diabetes cost the nation more than $116 billion to treat in 2007.

It has been especially devastating to Native Americans, as Franken well knows, since he sits on the Senate Committee for Indian Affairs and is working to improve health services for natives.  But diabetes strikes people of all races and ages.

“Hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans struggle with diabetes, and even more are at risk of developing it, but for many people, this costly disease is very preventable,” Franken said. “Studies show that the National Diabetes Prevention Program is highly effective at stopping the onset of type 2 diabetes. Covering this program through Medicare will help seniors stay healthier and save our taxpayers billions of dollars. It’s common sense and win-win.”

Diabetes accounts for one out of every three Medicare dollars, and these costs are projected only to go up as the population ages, noted Collins. “Research has shown that these kinds of community-based interventions work and can reduce a pre-diabetic patient’s risk of getting the disease by 71 percent in adults over 60. To not provide coverage for these services under Medicare would be penny wise and pound foolish.”

More than 24 million Americans suffer from diabetes, including 228,000 Minnesotans.  Another 1.2 million Minnesotans have pre-diabetes, which can often be reversed through changes in diet and exercise.

Studies have shown that the NDPP can decrease the likelihood that individuals with prediabetes will be diagnosed with full-blown type 2 diabetes by 58 percent for individuals over 25 and by 71 percent for seniors over 60.  In 2010, Franken and former Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), successfully fought to include the Diabetes Prevention Act in the health reform law.

Their legislation gave grants to organizations, such as health centers and the YMCA, to fund the NDPP and deliver the program to patients with pre-diabetes throughout the country.  In 2012, Franken successfully pushed the Department of Veterans Affairs to adopt the Diabetes Prevention Program as a pilot program. Currently, three VA Medical Centers, including the one in Minneapolis, are piloting the Diabetes Prevention Program.

Healthcare costs obviously need to be reined in, and proactive measures like diabetes prevention will save money and lives.  A six-month YMCA-based diabetes-prevention program cost about $300 per person.  With the harm diabetes can do, and the high medical costs, that’s an incredible savings.