We’ve long maintained that Medicare can be a stronger program, both in terms of protecting the health of its beneficiaries and in improved cost-efficiency, if it did a better job emphasizing prevention, diagnosis and early treatment, emulating many of the lessons being demonstrated every day in the private sector.
To the credit of HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell, the Medicare program is now moving in this direction in a very significant way.
Today, Secretary Burwell announced that the Obama Administration will propose new rules this summer that would have Medicare provide coverage for diabetes prevention programs. She cited a YMCA program that has enabled participants to cut their body weight by an average five percent, thus reducing the propensity for diabetes, a disease with extremely high incidence rates among the elderly. Early interventions can prevent the need for more expensive healthcare services to treat diabetes symptoms, thus reducing Medicare expenditures.
HLC has long argued that Medicare should pay for services such as health coaching, aiding beneficiaries in practicing better dietary and exercise habits, as well as new technological innovations to help those with diabetes and prediabetes better monitor their health conditions. We, in fact, sponsored a briefing for congressional staffers on the subject last year.
Secretary Burwell’s announcement today heralded an important new direction for the Medicare program. In her words, the federal government is transitioning from “treating the sick to preventing the illness.” We applaud her actions.