Diabetes is one of the greatest health threats Americans face, especially as they grow older. It impacts an estimated 34 million adults in the U.S., and nearly 27% of those 65 and older are believed to have the disease. In addition, one-half of older adults have pre-diabetes.
“Diabetes is a tricky disease, because it can go undiagnosed while causing damage that may eventually lead to serious complications, such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, eye problems and limb amputation,” said Dr. Philip Painter, chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement. “What’s more, people with type 2 diabetes may be at greater risk for cancer or Alzheimer’s – not to mention severe disease if they are infected with COVID-19.”
Having diabetes means your body does not properly use and regulate blood sugar. People with diabetes often must monitor their blood sugar (glucose) levels closely through finger prick tests or a monitoring device. Some require insulin to keep their glucose levels in a healthy range.
Though the prevalence of diabetes has dipped slightly, obesity — a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes — reached a new national high, according to the 2020 America’s Health Rankings report from the United Health Foundation. Even more concerning: Older adults with diabetes have a higher risk of death and disability.
Regular appointments are a must
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 77.8% of adults said they have a regular provider for diabetes care — which leaves about 22% without. Keeping in touch with a primary care provider and/or specialist can be of the utmost importance.
“Because older adults with diabetes are more likely to have additional health problems, they’re often juggling multiple medications and coping with challenges like depression, cognitive impairment, falls, pain and incontinence,” Dr. Painter said. “Seeing your doctor when recommended is key. If you are struggling to manage your diabetes, getting a comprehensive assessment and regular care can make all the difference.”
How to work with your team
A diabetes care team might include not only your primary care provider, but a diabetes educator, a foot doctor and other specialists. You can work with them by:
- Asking what kind of diabetes you have
- Understanding what your A1C levels, blood pressure and cholesterol should ideally be, and how you can manage them
- Reporting any complications or medication side effects you are experiencing
- Asking for a healthy meal plan
- Learning how to build more physical activity into your day
A helping hand in the form of a personal health navigator
UnitedHealthcare® Medicare Advantage members with diabetes can get one-on-one support through Navigate4Me™, a service that provides a personal health navigator to help coordinate care, address claims issues, provide social support and assist with other needs. For members impacted by COVID-19, this service also offers a helping hand to navigate safe quarantine, obtain medication and food when isolated and access clinical care, if needed.
UnitedHealthcare navigators talk with individuals as well as their family members and caregivers to fully understand the factors that can affect their overall health. Then they work together to map out a path forward. Navigate4Me is available at no additional cost to people with UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage plans facing complex health needs.
The added support of Navigate4Me may help members with diabetes control risk factors, which can significantly reduce heart attacks and stroke, Dr. Painter said.
Medicare coverage for diabetes
Medicare covers a range of diabetes medications, supplies and services to help treat diabetes and keep patients’ blood sugar in a healthy range.
In general, Original Medicare pays 80% and beneficiaries pay 20% of the Medicare-approved amount for diabetes supplies and services covered by Part B after the yearly deductible is met. Your percentage share of the cost is called coinsurance. You may also pay a coinsurance amount or a copayment for items covered by Medicare Part D, a prescription drug plan. What you pay depends on the terms of your specific Part D plan. Most Medicare Advantage plans include prescription drug coverage.
Medicare Part B covers outpatient diabetes self-management training if you’ve been diagnosed with the disease.
Medical nutrition therapy and A1C tests may be provided at no additional cost.
Remember, diabetes is a serious illness — but, with the help of your provider and the rest of your care team, you can help keep your blood sugar under control and work to avoid complications.
To find a UnitedHealthcare plan that offers Navigate4Me, visit UHCMedicareHealthPlans.com.
Navigate4Me by UnitedHealthcare is not available in all plans.
Plans are insured through UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company or one of its affiliated companies. For Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug Plans: A Medicare Advantage organization with a Medicare contract and a Medicare-approved Part D sponsor. Enrollment in these plans depends on the plan’s contract renewal with Medicare.