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National Council on Aging and Medicare Diabetes Screening Project Launch New Program to Educate Seniors about Medicare's Benefits for Diabetes Screening
Date:6/18/2009

Daschle and Others Call the Need Urgent; Among Seniors with Diabetes, Half Are Unaware; Medicare's Free Diabetes Screening Benefits Underutilized

WASHINGTON, June 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- At a meeting today sponsored by the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and the Medicare Diabetes Screening Project (MDSP), former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, experts in diabetes research and education, and representatives of senior-serving organizations from a four-state area gathered in Washington, DC to draw attention to the need for increased screening for diabetes among older adults ages 65 and older insured by Medicare.

"Diabetes is a major health threat for seniors and a driver in escalating Medicare costs," said Daschle. "Screening and early diagnosis are critical to managing diabetes effectively and to prevent the onset of the disease for those at risk. And yet, less than 10 percent of Medicare beneficiaries are screened annually for diabetes, even though Medicare offers a free diabetes screening benefit. We have to do better."

"When diabetes is undiagnosed and untreated, it can be devastating, and new government statistics show that older adults are especially vulnerable," said Nancy Whitelaw, Senior Vice President and Director, Center for Healthy Aging of NCOA. "That's why it is crucial that we create awareness of the benefits that Medicare offers for diabetes screening, and coach our seniors to ask their health care providers about being tested for diabetes, and if diagnosed, take up ways to improve their self-management of this dangerous disease."

According to a study in the February 2009 issue of Diabetes Care, led by one of today's speakers, Catherine Cowie, PhD, of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), 32% of adults ages 65 and older have diabetes. What's more, almost half of those seniors with diabetes (46%) don't know they have it -- they have not been diagnosed.

In addition to those with diabetes, another 40% of adults ages 65 and older have pre-diabetes, putting them at very high risk of developing diabetes and heart disease, and it is likely that most of them are unaware of their status.

For people who are ages 65 and older and have one risk factor for diabetes, Medicare offers a free diabetes-screening test in a health care provider's office, with no deductible and no co-pay. If seniors are found to have pre-diabetes, they are eligible for another free screening in six months.

"Since 2005, Medicare has offered benefits for diabetes screening, but usage of these benefits has been minimal, hovering around 10 percent," said Michael Mawby, Chief Government Affairs Officer for Novo Nordisk, one of the co-chairs of the MDSP along with the American Diabetes Association and the Healthcare Leadership Council. "That's why the Medicare Diabetes Screening Project and NCOA have joined forces and are launching today a new program to go directly to senior-serving organizations and urge them to promote Medicare's benefits for diabetes screening in their communities."

The new program is called "Diabetes Screening: Medicare Benefits for Better Health," and consists of outreach to leaders of organizations, agencies and companies that serve older adults, informing and educating them about Medicare's benefits for diabetes screening and encouraging these community leaders to make presentations and distribute information to older adults across the country. A key element of the program is a comprehensive kit of materials that includes information for the public and health care providers, as well as ready-to-go presentations with instructions and notes for speakers who can spread the word about diabetes screening.

Additionally, NCOA and MDSP are planning additional "train-the-trainer" sessions in Illinois and Florida later in the year. At these sessions, leaders from senior-serving organizations will learn about the new program and will receive training in using the program's informational materials, as well as learning how to train other community leaders to help spread the word.

At the session today in Washington, DC, participants heard from Sen. Tom Daschle, former Senate Majority Leader, about plans for health care reform coming from the Obama Administration. Those in attendance learned about the enormous human and economic toll of diabetes from Dr. William Rowley of the Institute for Alternative Futures. They also saw how one community -- Columbus, Georgia -- came together to successfully implement the Medicare Diabetes Screening Project.

Additionally, participants heard from Jill Jackson-Ledford, MSW, Vice President, Health Promotion, Center for Healthy Aging, NCOA, and Kate Lorig, RN, DrPH, Director of the Stanford Patient Education Research Center and Professor of Medicine, Stanford School of Medicine, about what might be done at the community level to better inform, educate and motivate seniors to take better care of their health, especially those who have been diagnosed with diabetes. Susan Vaeth, Administrator, Howard County, Maryland Office of Aging spoke about how her office used an award from the MDSP to reach out to seniors with the news that Medicare covers diabetes screening.

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) is a non-profit service and advocacy organization headquartered in Washington, DC. NCOA is a national voice for older Americans -- especially those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged -- and the community organizations that serve them. It brings together non-profit organizations, businesses, and government to develop creative solutions that improve the lives of all older adults. NCOA works with thousands of organizations across the country to help seniors find jobs and benefits, improve their health, live independently and remain active in their communities. For more information, visit www.ncoa.org. For more information about partnerships and other collaborative opportunities with NCOA, please contact Sheela Mirmira at sheela.mirmira@ncoa.org.

The Medicare Diabetes Screening Project is a national effort to reach and motivate seniors who have undiagnosed diabetes or pre-diabetes, and encourage them to see their doctors or other health care providers and take advantage of the free diabetes screening benefits offered by Medicare. To learn more, visit www.screenfordiabetes.org.


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SOURCE National Council on Aging
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