Moosh and Monsters:  A Journal about mySugr

Laddie_Head SquareI am currently one of the beta-testers for the coaching module which has just been added to the mySugr Diabetes Logbook app. You may have seen a recent announcement about this feature which will allow users to receive virtual coaching from Gary Scheiner and other CDE’s of Integrated Diabetes Services. To learn about the program, check out “mySugr Coaching – your shortcut to great diabetes management” by Scott Johnson, the USA Communications Lead for mySugr. Another good source of information is this Diabetes Mine article by Mike Hoskins titled “A New Age of Mobile Diabetes Education and Coaching.”

I have been using the mySugr Diabetes Logbook full-time for two months. To best describe the experience, I am sharing my journal of insights, problems, and opinions. Please note that I am in the early stages of the coaching experience and will share that story in another blogpost.

Journal

Thursday 7/21/16:  I saw Scott Johnson at an ADA seminar today. He asked if I would like some personal consulting sessions with Gary Scheiner of Integrated Diabetes Services. I have several times been a phone call away from calling IDS for help, but have never done it. So of course I said yes. According to Scott, the details of the project are still a little sketchy but will involve using the mySugr Logbook app to communicate virtually.

I like mySugr and have always thought that it is by far the best of the diabetes logging apps. But I have never been a faithful user. Too much data entry has always sidelined me after a week or two.

Friday, 7/22/16:  I began using mySugr again. I have to admit that it has been a year since I last used it and it is much more functional than before. My Dexcom CGM data ismy-monster automatically synced to the app through Apple Health. Most of the data entry is easy with icons and the ability to customize, rearrange, and delete line items. My personal monster whom I named Glukomutant is cute.

Friday 7/29:  I am a week into logging and a day into using the Accu-Chek Connect meter provided to me by mySugr. The meter automatically sends BG numbers to my phone and the mySugr app.

The Connect meter makes mySugr infinitely easier to use because it is one more piece of data that I don’t have to type in. The hardest part of having my phone be a medical device is that I am using my sometimes-bad memory to coordinate data from the Dexcom app, the mySugr app, my pump, my meters, and my life. Scott showed me a couple of shortcuts and let me know what info he enters and what he ignores. He indicated that the app will “moosh” all data entered within 10 minutes into one entry. “Moosh” is Scott-lingo for “fetch and combine.” For example, I test my BG and enter a correction bolus. A few minutes later I decide I to eat and enter my food, carb count, and a couple of tags. It will “moosh” it all together into one log to prevent an unwieldy number of entries in the logbook.

Right now I keep forgetting bolus details the second the pump delivers the insulin and I have to go to the pump history menu to get the info. I’m sure that I will get better at remembering numbers and not get so tangled up creating an entry. Long term mySugr hopes to automate all data sources so that there is very little manual data entry.

Tuesday, August 2:  Today I started a new Dexcom sensor. For the 2 start-up calibrations, I got the following numbers from the Accu-Chek Connect meter: 85 / 108. I did a 3rd test to get a better sense and got 78. This is why I use Freestyle meters. I will try to stick with the Accu-Chek meter for my trial and I did order a bunch of test strips. Out of curiosity I tested on my Freestyle Lite meter. I got 84 / 87. For consistency I used the Accu-chek to calibrate my CGM which interpreted the two tests as 96. Since Freestyle is often considered to test on the low side, the numbers aren’t too horribly different.

Saturday, August 6:  The mySugr app allows basal changes by the hour or half-hour. When using half-hour, I would prefer that the basal rate still show the hourly rate because I have never thought of basal rates in half-hour segments although I often change rates on the half-hour. Does that make sense?

logbook-en-homescreenSaturday, August 6:  I am used to reviewing my CGM tracings and feel as though I get a good overview of the “forest.” With mySugr I feel as though I am down in the trees with a lot of emphasis on average and deviation, both of which are highly affected by a single number. I think that once I have more weeks of data, the summary reports will be more helpful.

Saturday, August 6:  Once again not thrilled with meter. CGM 145, Accu-Chek 118, Freestyle 138. Most of the time the meter is fine and aligns very well with my Freestyle. It syncs amazingly fast to my phone.

Sunday, Aug 7:  Would like an icon for combo/extended bolus and maybe a way to log it besides using notes.

Although the ability to take photos of food is nice, I rarely do it. One of the most useful features is Search. Since I live in a rut and often eat the same foods every day, I can search by things such as “Lunch” and “Salad” and compare how I have bolused for similar meals in the past.

Thursday August 11:  Love how the app learns words I use. For example: CGM, Oatmeal, Walking.

Wish pump bolus info was synced. I do everything on my pump and then enter it again on app. I have accessed my pump history more times in the last month than the previous four years. Wish I remembered it better.

Would like an icon for CGM calibration.

Sunday, August 14:  I learn something new every day. When scrolling down BG numbers, I see that the ones from the Accu-Chek meter are marked with a “Verified” symbol while manual entry ones aren’t.

Saturday, August 20:  I am definitely in the habit of logging, but am hitting the wall of data fatigue. It is quite horrible to see how many “interactions” I have with diabetes every day.

Wednesday Aug 24:  Noticed that my step count from Apple Health is now included in the mySugr daily summary. I love data that I don’t have to enter!

Sunday, Aug 28:  I need to learn more about the reports and graph. Would like to see the graph in landscape view.

Wednesday, Sept 7:  When I activated the consulting module, I filled out everything. Then when I went to settings to activate the camera for a selfie, everything was lost. The perils of being a beta-tester. 🙁

Monday, Sept 12:  Learned that I can swipe an entry to the right to see a menu of Share-Edit-Delete (I had been selecting the entry and pressing the Edit button). This is so much faster. Scott probably showed me this and I forgot. #OldAge. 😀

Saturday, September 17:  My consulting request has been submitted and I am waiting to hear back from Gary. I usually think that my numbers are erratic and unexplainable. However mySugr reports show that my 7-day, 14-day, and 30-day summaries are eerily consistent. I am nervous about having someone review my data.

To be continued…. 

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Fitbit Fun

Laddie_Head SquareIn the spring of 2015 I wrote a couple of blogposts (here and here) about how much I enjoy using a Fitbit and how I find it to be a motivating addition to my diabetes toolbox. A year and a half later I am still using my Fitbit and participating in a regular challenge with members of the diabetes community. (Thanks to Sue R who invites me every week!)

Although I am a self-motivated Fitbit user and would tackle my daily step goal without DOC competition, I still enjoy the motivation resulting my daily interactions with other D-people. Recent thoughts include:

I have a good chance of beating Kerri of Six Until Me in a challenge for the first time ever because she had a baby by C-section two weeks ago. I wouldn’t be so stupid as to place a bet on my results once that “little tomato” “biscuit” “fourth chair” is a month old….

My trick of attaching my Fitbit One to my pump tubing is gaining traction as I recently witnessed Scott Johnson borrow an old-style Fitbit (Zip and One, unlike the more recent bracelet models) so that he could clip it to his pump tubing to track his steps on the basketball court.

David E has moved from being an “also-ran” to an unbeatable champion almost every week. I’m not sure that he is more active these days. I think that he is just becoming better at syncing his Fitbit so that his steps count.

Just so your know!  On Monday Fitbit added a new do-it-yourself challenge called “Adventures.” If you click on “Challenges” from your phone/tablet Fitbit home screen, you’ll see a section called Adventures. This allows you to select a daily or multi-day hike to challenge yourself and receive the rewards of 180º photos at landmarks along the trail. Today I selected the Vernal Falls hike which requires 15,000 steps. (The options that show up in your adventures are based on your average steps.) Although my daily goal is 10,000 steps, my average is closer to 15,000 and that is why all of my adventure options require a lot of steps. As I type this blogpost, I am 331 steps short of my goal and I will walk around the house this evening to make sure I reach my destination.

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Because I am a hiker, I enjoy the idea of “Adventures” and it is something different from my normal goals. If you need motivation to pull your Fitbit out of the junk drawer, check out Adventures on the Fitbit website and see if it interests you. If nothing else, you can download some new wallpapers from the Yosemite Adventure as seen below:

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See you out on the Fitbit trail!

Countdown to Medicare with Type 1 Diabetes: 7 Months / Ducks in a Row

Laddie_Head SquareI went to court last month. Was I nabbed by the diabetes police? Nope. How about the regular police? Not them either. Was I dragged into the legal system for breaking the rules by dosing insulin off my CGM? Nothing like that. So what was I doing?

I was getting my ducks in a row.

What does that have to do with Social Security and Medicare? The answer to that is a lot.

As you approach your initial sign-up date for retirement benefits under Social Security, you need to be sure that you have the required documentation for your claim. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA) website, in most circumstances you will need the following documents:

•your Social Security card (or a record of your number);

•your original birth certificate or other proof of birth (You may also submit a copy of your birth certificate certified by the issuing agency);

•proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not born in the U.S. [More Info];

•a copy of your U.S. military service paper(s) (e.g., DD-214 – Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty) if you had military service before 1968; and

•a copy of your W-2 form(s) and/or self-employment tax return for last year.

My advice is to consider this list at least 3 months before signing up for Social Security so Countdown to Medicare 7 Monthsthat you will have time to obtain any missing documents. Although I had a copy of my birth certificate, I chose to get a certified copy just to be safe. It took about 3 weeks to get the official document from the vital records department of my birth state.

Fortunately if you have any gaps in documentation, you can and should sign up for Social Security on time. From the Social Security Administration (SSA) website:

“Even if you don’t have all the documents you need, don’t delay signing up for Social Security. You can submit any documents you do have. You can provide the missing documents later or we may be able to help you get them.

In many cases, your local Social Security office can contact your state Bureau of Vital Statistics and verify your information online at no cost to you. If we can’t verify your information online, we can still help you get the information you need.

If you delay signing up, you could lose some benefits you may be due.”

So why did I have to go to court?

I had to get a court order for an official name change. Since 1976 I have had a discrepancy between the middle name on my driver’s license and the middle name on my Social Security card. When I got married I chose to keep my maiden name as my middle name and abandoned my previous middle name. Or so I thought. I went to Social Security and had a card issued in my new name. When we moved to Minnesota, the DMV required me to use the old middle name on my driver’s license. I don’t remember how my passport was handled, but it has always matched my driver’s license. So my two main forms of ID for the last forty years have not matched my tax information, bank accounts, and everything else that we own.

I should have fixed this discrepancy years ago, but it amazingly has never been a problem. Thinking of approaching Social Security and handling our assets in our senior years, I finally determined that it was time to resolve the issue.

Changing your name is not difficult. I didn’t need to use an attorney, but did so because a good friend was willing to help me. I filled out a lot of paperwork, seemingly the same thing over and over again. I signed a form allowing for a criminal background check by the FBI. I completed another form for a background check by the MN BCA (Bureau of Criminal Apprehension). More than once I signed that I was not changing my name for fraudulent reasons or to hide assets. On my scheduled court date, I went before a judge with two witnesses and received an official court order for a name change.

With the certified copy of my court order, I have applied for a new driver’s license and will apply for a new passport once the DL arrives.

It is possible that my name discrepancy might not have been noticed with my Social Security application. However in our increasingly ID-conscious society, it seemed to be an unnecessary risk to be a citizen with two aliases. Two aliases sounds so criminal compared to two middle names….

I don’t know everything about Social Security and Medicare yet, but at least I have my ducks in a row. Most of you won’t have to go to court to get ready for Medicare. However, you may have other things that should be taken care of as you enter this new stage of your life.

Now is as good a time as any to get your ducks in a row.

Ducks in a Row

The Last D-Tech

Laddie_Head SquareThe last CGM.

The last pump.

The last D-tech before going on Medicare.

In early September I will purchase my last CGM system before going on Medicare in the spring. That will be followed by my final pump selection in early December. Rather than view these decisions with my usual excitement, I sit here with a stomachache of dread, frustration, and uncertainty. I tend to be naive and think that there is a “correct” decision when it comes to things like this, but there is enough going on in both the reimbursement and technology landscapes that I am faced with a lot of doubt.

First the CGM. It will be Dexcom for sure, but I am torn between staying with the G5 or going back to G4 platform. Although Dexcom is primarily marketing the G5, I use an Animas Vibe and have the option of staying with the G4 for the foreseeable future. (Please ignore the fact that I rarely use my pump as the CGM receiver. Click here for an explanation.) Currently Medicare does not cover continuous glucose monitoring for seniors with Type 1 diabetes. Many individuals and organizations are working hard for a policy change, but I am discouraged and convinced that I will have to self-fund my CGM starting at age 65.

Dexcom has made and continues to make decisions that make self-funding a CGM increasingly expensive. Looking at transmitters, G4 transmitters had a 6-month warranty but many of us experienced a much longer life than that. My most recent G4 transmitter lasted a year. G5 transmitters place a higher demand on batteries, but also have a software-mandated drop-dead date of about 100 days. Thus for someone who self-pays, transmitter costs have almost doubled from G4 to G5.

As yet no changes have been made that impact the cost of sensors. Unfortunately as reported at Diabetes Mine last week, the Dexcom CEO brought up the idea of Sensor Auto Shut-off during the latest quarterly earnings call. This was presented as a safety consideration and my initial snarky response was tweeted by Diabetes Hands Foundation: “So we can kill ourselves on Day 1 of a sensor when Dex is at its most inaccurate, but not on Day 11″ bit.ly/2b4fmjx @MNAZLaddie.” In Dexcom’s defense, no one can ignore the financial repercussions to Dexcom of customers using sensors for 2-3 times as long as warrantied.spiral with words_2016

I currently use most of my sensors for about 2-1/2 weeks. I have full insurance coverage for sensors, but experience better accuracy the second week than the first. I often finally change out a sensor for scheduling reasons or because it falls off despite SkinTac and additional tape. Very rarely is it because of performance problems. I doubt that there will be sensor auto shut-off until the G6, but it is another change that will greatly impact those who self-pay.

I think it makes sense for me to return to G4 for now, especially since I can use the Share feature to see data on my phone. Going back to carrying a receiver won’t bother me much, especially because I like the alarm profiles of the receiver much better than my phone. I am also tired of keeping my phone with me all of the time.

The CGM decision is tangled in my thoughts about a new pump. I am not in love with the Vibe and it doesn’t make sense to buy another one. Tandem is close to retiring the t:slim G4 and I know that if I go with Tandem, I would prefer to buy the t:slim X2 to be released in the fall. The last time I selected a pump for CGM reasons was the Ping in 2012 and it wasn’t a good choice for me. I’ll be writing more about pump musings in the fall, but as with previous pump decisions, it will be complicated by insurance considerations and the uncertain release date of new technology. Medicare rules will also come into play.

One undiscussed topic in today’s post is: If the cost of using a Dexcom continues to spiral upwards and there is no Medicare coverage, at what point will I choose to live without a CGM? Going back to the second paragraph of this blogpost, that is the sort of decision that fills me with “dread, frustration, and uncertainty.”

And fear.

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I sometimes conclude technology posts with the admission that my concerns are a #firstworldproblem. I am a privileged patient when it comes to diabetes and I am grateful.

Countdown to Medicare with Type 1 Diabetes: 8 Months / Drugs and Donuts

Laddie_Head SquareWhen you start investigating Medicare plans, it is easy to get overwhelmed with letters and options. Parts A, B, C, and D are well-known, but depending on where you live, you may find Parts F, G, K, L, M, and N.

In this blogpost I plan to be simple and just talk about Part D Medicare prescription drug coverage. That’s a joke because there is nothing simple about Part D.

Let’s start with a few straightforward facts:

  • Part D is regulated by Medicare but all drug plans are administered by private companies.
  • Part D plans provide coverage for generic and name-brand drugs. All plans must Countdown to Medicare 8 Monthsprovide at least a Medicare-approved level of coverage, but can vary by specific drugs covered, rates, and pharmacy networks.
  • In order to purchase a Part D plan, you must be eligible for Medicare Part A and/or enrolled in Part B. You must also live in the plan’s service area.
  • You may purchase Part D as part of a Cost/Advantage plan or as a stand-alone Part D plan.
  • Part D coverage is not required. However, if you do not purchase it when you are first eligible, you may be subject to penalties and higher premiums when you do. Those penalties will continue for as long as you participate in Part D. Like for the rest of your life.

The most complicated part of standard Medicare drug coverage is understanding the four cost stages, particularly the coverage gap or donut hole.

The first stage is the Deductible Stage where you pay 100% of your prescription drug costs. The maximum deductible allowed by Medicare in 2016 is $360. Some plans have lower deductibles.

Once you satisfy your deductible (doesn’t take long if you have diabetes!), you enter the Initial Coverage Stage. In this “cost sharing” phase you pay either a copay or a percentage copayment depending on your drug plan. In 2016 this stage continues until the payments by you and your plan combined total $3310. For example, you buy 4 vials of Lantus with a total contracted price of $1000. You have a coinsurance plan where you pay 25% or $250 and the plan pays 75% or $750. The entire $1000, not just your out-of-pocket cost, counts towards the $3310 amount to put you into the Coverage Gap or Donut Hole.

If you use insulin, you can see how quickly you will enter the donut hole where the out-of-pocket drug costs increase significantly. In 2016 under a standard Medicare Part D plan, you can expect to pay 45% of the cost of covered name-brand drugs and 58% of the cost of generics once you reach the coverage gap. I could write a book trying to explain the donut hole, but here are a few things to put it in context.

The donut hole terminology came from the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA) in which prescription drug coverage became available to all Medicare beneficiaries. If you are interested in the history of this law, check out this publication by Jonathan Blum who was a professional staff member to the Senate Finance Committee at that time.

As recently as 2010, most Medicare beneficiaries paid 100% of drug costs once they reached the coverage gap. One of the few changes made to Medicare by the Affordable Care Act was the implementation of a blueprint to gradually eliminate the donut hole by 2020. A good explanation of these changes can be found in this Medicare publication “Closing the Coverage Gap—Medicare Prescriptions are Becoming More Affordable.”

Part D Rectangle

One unanswered question I have about the coverage gap is how the $4850 to enter the catastrophic stage is computed. I have attended two Medicare information meetings and both insurance companies indicated that the $4850 is totally paid by me. However, the Medicare publication mentioned above states: “Although, you’ll only pay a certain percentage of the price for the brand-name drug, the entire price (including the discount the drug company pays) will count toward the amount you need to qualify for catastrophic coverage.” If you know the answer, please leave a comment. Once I get to Medicare, I suspect I’ll figure it out.

The last stage of Part D prescription drug coverage is the Catastrophic Coverage Stage. In 2016 you pay either $2.95 for generics and $7.40 for brand-name drugs or 5% of drug costs, whichever is greater.

Just when things look complicated enough, there is another consideration for those of us who use insulin pumps. Although insulin is usually purchased through a Part D plan, it is covered under Part B for pump users. Fine and dandy, but it can be extremely difficult to find a supplier for Part B insulin. To get a clue how difficult, read Sue from Pennsylvania’s post “Hey, He Needs his Insulin!” One reason is that many pharmacies rarely deal with this and plead ignorance. Another reason is that the reimbursement rate for Part B insulin is so low that pharmacies/suppliers lose money when selling Part B insulin. A 2013 Lincoln Journal Star article states:

A Medicare spokeswoman said the price is set in federal law — at 95 percent of the average, wholesale price in effect on Oct. 1, 2003. So it requires Congress to change it, she said in an email to the newspaper.“

The cost savings for buying insulin under Part B are substantial. Medicare pays 80% of the cost and a supplemental/advantage/cost plan should pay the remaining 20%. Insulin is therefore usually provided at no cost to someone using a pump. In addition, insulin under Part B is excluded from Part D donut hole calculations.

That’s it for today. I hope that this blogpost has provided some information without totally putting you to sleep. I have done my best to research Medicare drug coverage and if any of what I have written is incorrect, please send me a message along with a dozen donuts.

Most of us think that when we grow old, we will play golf, watch TV, do crossword puzzles, and relax on the patio. I am beginning to think that I’ll be sitting at my desk trying to figure out Medicare….

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Most of the information in this blogpost comes from current publications of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota and HealthPartners. I attended community meetings offered by those companies in July. The official Medicare website is also an excellent resource.

Friday Notes

Laddie_Head SquareYesterday was a busy diabetes day. In addition to just having diabetes (and believe me, that’s enough!), I attended an advocacy training program sponsored by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and there was a vote by an FDA Advisory Committee regarding the Dexcom G5.

Number #1: My DiabetesNothing momentous to say about my diabetes except that yep, I’ve still got it. I had a big unexpected BG spike after a restaurant salad lunch. Maybe there was hidden sugar in the salad dressing. Maybe my glass of wine decided to be a problem. Maybe it was the mid-morning peanut snack dosed with an extended bolus. Maybe it was because it was 90+ degrees outside with off-the-chart humidity even though I was comfortable inside with air conditioning. Maybe it was because it was Thursday. This is the sort of stuff that makes it a miracle that those of us dealing with Type 1 even have a modicum of sanity left in our lives.

Number #2: ADA Advocacy Training:  I attended a late afternoon Advocacy Training seminar sponsored by the American Diabetes Association. I found it to be very empowering and in a moment of bravado, I signed up to be available for in-person office visits to my congressional representatives. I am a confident advocate when writing, but speaking and putting myself “out there” border on terrifying.

The ADA has a good app for advocacy and I suggest that you check it out. It provides information on national and state advocacy priorities and links to easily become involved in ADA advocacy. Search for “Diabetes Advocacy” in the app store.IMG_0298

Because Scott Johnson was the reason that I knew about this seminar, I can’t say that it was a surprise to run into him by the Diet Coke cooler. But it’s always a pleasure to see Scott.IMG_0295

Number #3: FDA and Dexcom G5:  I was pleased to receive an email from Bennet Dunlap of DPAC sharing news from yesterday’s FDA Advisory Committee meeting on Dexcom G5 labeling. The panel voted 8-2 to recommend approval of a G5 labeling change to allow insulin dosing without a confirmatory BG meter test. The FDA will have to make the final approval, but it is likely that the advisory committee’s recommendation will be accepted. This change should help justify Medicare coverage for CGM’s as well as expand the use of CGM to more patient populations.IMG_0932

That’s it for today. Have a good weekend!

 

We Regret to Inform You

Laddie_Head SquareMy health insurance life is imploding and exploding. I can’t tell the difference between what I know and what I don’t know. What I heard last week isn’t true this week and might change again next week. In January I wrote about dreading Medicare. Today I think it might be the best thing that could happen to me.

On June 23 Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota (BCBS) announced that it will discontinue full-service plans in the individual health insurance market beginning in 2017. This follows the exit or reduction in offerings by other companies in previous years. Minnesota was one of the states that created its own insurance exchange in 2014 after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the results have been devastating for many of the 6% of citizens seeking individual insurance in the state. (The individual market covers people who do not have access to employer-based coverage and are not eligible for Medicaid or other publicBCBS Blexit programs.)

BCBS of MN is the only company so far to announce its exit from the 2017 individual market. Unfortunately it is the largest insurer in the market and its departure will affect 103,000 of the approximately 300,000 Minnesotans who purchase individual insurance. The recent announcement by BCBS follows a premium hike of over 50% in 2016. This increase was justified by the carrier’s reported loss of $265 million dollars in the 2015 individual market.

My 2016 monthly premium was 61% higher than in 2015 and was accompanied by a slightly higher deductible. If BCBS is continuing to experience unsustainable losses with the huge premiums that I am paying, my fear is that no company will be able to survive longterm in this market. Unfortunately as rates soar, many young and/or healthy individuals are choosing or being forced to go without insurance. The downward spiral of an unsustainable market is intensified as the insured population gets older and sicker and costs skyrocket.

I have no idea what the landscape for the individual insurance market in Minnesota will look like next year. It seems questionable that the remaining players can absorb the 103,000 people stranded by BCBS. Will other insurers pull out? Will exorbitant premiums, high deductibles, limited networks, and poor coverage be the norm? What will be the effects of the presidential election with one candidate vowing to repeal the ACA?

All I know is that I received a letter that says:

“We regret to inform you that at the end of this year, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota will be discontinuing all individual and family insurance plans sold to members in Minnesota directly, through an agent or broker, or on MNsure. As a result, you will not be able to renew your current plan or select another Blue Cross plan for coverage in 2017.”

I personally only have to deal with this for three months in 2017 and will transition to Medicare on April 1. I know others who do not have this option. Some of them have Type 1 diabetes and the outlook is bleak.

Yes, Medicare is definitely starting to look pretty good.

*****   Relevant Articles   *****

http://www.startribune.com/blue-cross-eyes-major-exit-from-individual-market/384303131/

http://www.startribune.com/regulators-approve-premium-jumps-averaging-as-much-as-49-percent-in-minnesota/330275391/

Subtracting the Adjunct from Dexcom G5

I will preface this blogpost by reminding you that I am not a medical professional and I am not suggesting that you do what I do.

Laddie_Head SquareSetting the Scene:  On July 21 Dexcom will have an Advisory Panel hearing with the FDA to discuss whether Dexcom’s G5 CGM should be officially approved for dosing insulin. (This Diatribe article gives information on the meeting and how to provide comments or attend in person.) Currently the G5 has “adjunctive” labeling which means that it is approved by the FDA to be used with confirmatory finger stick testing. Non-adjunctive labeling will help CGM’s receive approval for Medicare coverage as well as justify CGM use for more people with diabetes. In September 2015 the G5 was approved with proper calibration for insulin dosing in Europe.

Background:  Three years ago I wrote a blogpost about how frequently I dose off of my Dexcom. In that post I mentioned bolstering my Dexcom confidence with an average of 8 meter tests a day. Not much has changed since then except I now back up my Dexcom with only 4-6 daily finger sticks. Two of those BG tests are for calibration so it is evident that I am relying on Dexcom for most of my BG information.

Dexcom Blindman’s Bluff:  Earlier in June I decided to test my confidence in the Dexcom G5 and play a game that could be called Dexcom Blindman’s Bluff. The purpose was to experiment with reducing the number of meter tests even further and to consider whether I have enough trust in a CGM to allow it to be the basis for all insulin dosing as it might be in an artificial pancreas (AP) system.

Articles about improvements in AP technology seemed to be published daily. Many clinical trials report average blood glucose numbers in the high 120’s to the low 140’s. For the vast majority of people with Type 1 diabetes, those numbers would be a significant improvement.

I am a T1 who has managed to have lower averages than that for many years. Would I be willing to trade a higher A1c for a huge decrease in the mental burden of diabetes alongBlindFolded Woman with a significant reduction in variability and the number of lows? I suspect that I would although I know some T1’s who definitely would not. Secondly, would I trust a Dexcom sensor to give sufficiently accurate results to dose insulin without my input?

For 48 hours on June 7-8, I decided to accept all numbers in my Dexcom target range of 70-160. The rule was No peeking at my G5 screen for any reason other than to act on prompts for calibration and alerts for out-of-range BG’s. I would use my Freestyle meter only for calibrations. I would rely on Dex alert numbers as the basis for correcting lows and highs and no meter tests for confirmation were allowed. Before eating I would not check my Dex for my current BG status and I would dose insulin based only on the carb count of the food I was eating and my anticipated activity level. If I hadn’t received an alert, I knew that my BG was somewhere between 70 and 160 and that was it.

Because I had Dexcom alerts and calibrations, I didn’t believe that I was doing anything horrendously dangerous. After all, those of us diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes before the mid-1980’s had no home blood glucose monitoring and played “chicken” with diabetes every day.

Results: I had no problems blindly following my Dexcom G5 for 2 days and I was comfortable letting Dexcom run the show. That confidence came with a couple of caveats. The sensor was a week old and had already proven itself to be reasonably accurate. I was close to home both days and not climbing mountains, playing golf, or eating chocolate-covered donuts.

I am the first to admit that my results were skewed for the experiment because I tried to avoid anything that would push my BG out of range. It was two days of the best diabetes numbers that I have seen in ages. But good numbers weren’t the purpose of the experiment and when I got a couple of low alerts overnight, I treated them with no meter confirmation and the same with an afternoon high.

Dexcom Clarity Graphs

This experiment reinforced how little I can feel differences in my blood sugar. Most of the time I had no clue where my BG was in my range. 75 or 155? I had no idea.

Although a two-day test is not sufficient to prove that I would trust the Dex as the compass for an artificial pancreas, it did show me how quickly I could adjust to accepting all numbers in a target range and letting a tech device deal with the minutiae. The idea of not thinking about blood sugars all of the time was very enticing and a slightly higher A1c, especially with less BG variability, might be a small price to pay for a more “normal” life.

Longterm:  Two days was only a toe in the water of using a CGM as my primary blood glucose guide. I thought about doing a longer test, but I couldn’t think of any reason to continue using a CGM blinded. Trends, spot-checks, and pre-meal info are crucial features of CGM use and it is an artificial, somewhat silly game to do without them.

Even when personal experiments aren’t scientific and don’t prove a lot, they definitely relieve the tedium of diabetes and that is something I need. A more apt experiment for testing the G5 as a non-adjunctive device would be where I used my meter only for calibrations and as Dexcom recommends in Europe, when BG is low or changing rapidly. I don’t need to do that test because that’s close to what my life is right now.

Countdown to Medicare with Type 1 Diabetes: 10 Months / Sources of Information

Laddie_Head SquareAlthough 10 months before my 65th birthday seems early to investigate my Medicare options, it’s really not.

First, I can sign up for Medicare three months before my 65th birthday and January is seven months away.

Secondly, I will be doing most of my research this fall in a period that overlaps with the October 15 – December 7 open enrollment period for all Medicare beneficiaries. That is good because there will be a lot of 2017 plan information available at that time. That is bad because most insurance brokers and company representatives will be busy and it might be hard to get individual attention.

Thirdly, as someone with a pre-existing health condition, my initial selections can have lifelong effects. If I do not choose a Medigap (Supplemental) policy during my one-time Medigap Open Enrollment Period (the first six months after I turn 65), I can be refusedCountdown to Medicare 10 Months Medigap coverage or charged higher rates in the future. Although an Advantage plan may seem more favorable in the short run, I need to analyze that decision on a longterm basis knowing the problems of switching to a Medigap policy in the future. Minnesota has the highest concentration of seniors with Medicare Cost plans. These plans are a hybrid between Advantage and Supplemental policies and may end up being a good choice for me.

My sources of information at the moment are:

Federal government:  Websites such as Medicare.gov and Cms.gov are the most reliable source for current Medicare information and regulations.

SHIPs:  State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs) provide free one-on-one insurance assistance to Medicare beneficiaries and links to resources for senior citizens in each state. They are state-specific grant-funded projects of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Select your state on this site to obtain the relevant phone number and website. In Minnesota I am linked to the Minnesota Board on Aging along with the Senior LinkAge Line® and MinnesotaHelp.info®.

Insurance Companies:  Commercial insurance websites currently provide information about 2016 plans. The 2017 plans will be released in October. Help numbers and retail store appointments are some of the options offered. Most companies also sponsor group sessions which provide information on Original Medicare, plan choices, and differences among the plans. Last year I attended an insurance company-sponsored meeting titled “Medicare 101.” This year I will attend one or more sessions provided by the companies whose plans I am considering.

Miscellaneous Websites I can Google specific topics and receive multiple website recommendations. It’s a good idea to evaluate the reliability of the data and the source of the info (government vs commercial vs good information vs snake oil).

Books and Publications:  Most of the websites mentioned above have free pamphlets and downloadable books. I have already downloaded the 160-page “official U.S. government Medicare handbook” titled Medicare & You 2016 from the Medicare.gov publications link. You can also purchase commercial books such as Medicare for Dummies.

Insurance Brokers Insurance brokers who specialize in Medicare are a good source for individual help. They earn commissions from the insurance companies and are free for users. In recent years I have worked with an excellent broker for private insurance and recently touched base with the Medicare specialist in the same firm.

Friends with diabetes:  I have already gained useful information from some of my Type 1 friends already on Medicare. For learning the ropes of navigating Medicare with an insulin pump and a CGM, they are a practical and valuable resource.

In some ways learning about Medicare is not that different from learning about diabetes. A lot of it seems confusing and overwhelming at first. As you learn more, you begin to understand how things fits together and become more confident about your decision-making skills. At the moment I would argue that my diabetes expertise greatly outweighs my Medicare knowledge, but I think I’m on the right road.

If you have other sources of information about Medicare, please share them in the comments. Advice is always welcomed!

 

Considering the Heart | Part 3 | My Story

I delayed finishing this blogpost because despite my research on cardiovascular disease, I felt quite ignorant about my specific risks. After recent lab work, a specialized CT scan, and a visit with my internist, I am comfortable that I am competent to share my story.

Laddie_Head SquareIn Part 1 and Part 2 of this series about cardiovascular disease (CVD), I mentioned my tendency to play the “Not Me” card and dismiss the possibility of heart disease. My rational self knows better and I am aware that statistics indicate that my risk is significant. To date I have never experienced cardiac symptoms nor been diagnosed with CVD.

The American Heart Association website indicates that cardiovascular risk is determined by a combination of uncontrollable and modifiable factors. I do not get a good grade on uncontrollable risks. I am a post-menopausal woman who has had Type 1 diabetes for almost 40 years. I have a family history of heart disease including a father who had a heart attack before age 55. I have the negative factor of long-term use of prescription-strength NSAIDs for my inflammatory arthritis.

At the same time all is not gloom and doom because I have many checkmarks in the “heart-smart” column of things that reduce CVD risk. I am not overweight and IConsidering the Heart exercise regularly. I have never smoked, I eat a reasonably good diet, and my A1c is well within target range. I sleep okay for the most part and am not burdened with depression or an overly stressful life.

My blood pressure is in target range for “normal people,” but I have flirted with being out of the recommended range for people with diabetes. I am currently on a  low dose of blood pressure medicine and have no problems with it. Because BP meds have been shown to provide kidney protection for people with diabetes, I figure that I am getting a double benefit from it.

Eight months ago I had an out-of-range cholesterol test for the first time ever. Because my lipid numbers have always been ideal and my HDL (“good” cholesterol) is insanely high, my internist was okay with the “wait and watch” philosophy before prescribing statins. I saw my endocrinologist a few months later and she strongly suggested I start a statin drug. The 2016 Standards of Care in Diabetes includes this recommendation:  “In all patients with diabetes aged ≥40 years, moderate-intensity statin treatment should be considered in addition to lifestyle therapy.”

In December I accepted a prescription for a low dose of a statin. I filled it, took the pills for a month, and quit. I BECAME A NONCOMPLIANT PATIENT. I quit because I wasn’t mentally ready to take a drug that I swore I would never take. I also wanted one more cholesterol test without medication to confirm the previous results. This spring after great results from a repeat cholesterol test and a coronary artery calcium scan ($100 out-of-pocket), my internist and I agreed that it was appropriate for me to refuse a statin drug at this time. (This blogpost is not about the statin controversy and I suggest that you do your homework on statins and work with your medical team to make the best decision for you.)

I sometimes worry that I have characteristics that will lead to suboptimal diagnosis and care in case of a cardiovascular event. This article by Carolyn Thomas of Heart Sisters describes why women often delay seeking medical care mid-heart attack and I realize that I could be such a woman. I know that I might be apt to dismiss symptoms as “nothing” or sit at home wondering if my symptoms are significant. I am definitely the personality who might drive herself to the ER with chest pains. Even worse as someone with T1 diabetes, I know that I am at risk for an asymptomatic heart attack. Symptoms of a stroke are probably more clear than those of a heart attack and I know that it is important to not delay treatment for those symptoms.

I’m now at a point that I am somewhat educated about cardiovascular disease and knowledgeable about my risk factors. I work hard to be an empowered patient and although I don’t always agree with my doctors, I listen to them. I do my best to eat well and live well. After that, there is not much that I can do except try not to get run over by a bus tomorrow….

Summary: I hope that my series on cardiovascular disease as related to Type 1 diabetes and being a woman has taught you something and inspired you to educate yourself. Some of my diabetes friends have already been diagnosed with CVD issues and the rest of us are “at risk”. None of us should live our lives in total fear of where statistics might lead us. At the same time we shouldn’t stick our heads in the sand and be stupid.

A lot of the data contained in my first two posts is gloomy. I think that it is important to remember the statistic from the EDIC study that intensive diabetes therapy can reduce cardiovascular events by 42%. As much as you may hate the monster that is diabetes, do your best to manage it. We’ll never be perfect, but maybe we can make a difference.

Please remember that I am not a medical professional. Although this post presents information about cardiovascular disease and Type 1 diabetes, it is by no means complete. Do your homework and talk to your medical professionals about your risk.

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Related Posts

Considering the Heart | Part 1 | Type 1 Diabetes

Considering the Heart | Part 2 | Women with Type 1 Diabetes