Insulin Pump Decision 2016

Laddie_Head SquareAnd the choice is…

Next week I will be ordering a new pump or at least I hope I will. My decision could have been difficult, but because of the narrow time window for ordering my pump and looking at my future under Medicare, it was easy.

Timing:

As someone who uses a lot of technology to manage my diabetes, I satisfy my insurance deductible long before the end of the year. With my 2016 deductible satisfied, my pump will be covered at no cost to me—as long as it is shipped before the end of the year. I think I dawdled last time I purchased a pump and ended up with a warranty expiration date in December. Not great timing as I would feel more comfortable if I already had the pump in hand.

My timing is also affected by my move to Medicare in April 2017. I will have individual insurance for January-March, but it will have such a high deductible that a pump purchase would essentially be out-of-pocket. If for some reason I don’t get the new pump in December, I will wait until after April 1. It is not ideal to start Medicare needing a high-ticket item and I don’t know whether I would be forced to abide by the Medicare policy of a 5-year warranty on pumps. I don’t think so because Medicare did not purchase my current pump, but you never know.

Timing also affects what pump I will select. I would like the opportunity to try out the Medtronic 630G, but only if I would be eligible to upgrade to the 670G. Unfortunately I will be on Medicare by the time the 670G is released and Medicare beneficiaries are not allowed to participate in manufacturer upgrade programs. I have been told that this rule is part of anti-fraud regulations, but it truly makes no sense to me. It is not as though there is any cost to Medicare to allow me to upgrade if I pay the out-of-pocket cost (if any) and I don’t see how anything about it is fraudulent. But this is not a battle I can win and therefore I will not buy a Medtronic pump at this time. I don’t find the 630G sufficiently appealing to live with for 4 or 5 years especially since it uses the current generation of Enlite sensors and not the improved sensors that are part of the 670G system. I could wait until the 670G is released but there is no guarantee of Medicare coverage.

Pump Options:

Accu-Chek: I have never considered an Accu-Chek pump. I think some people are very happy with the Accu-Chek Combo, but there is little about it that excites me. I don’t want a meter-remote and given my recent experience with the Accu-Chek Connect meter, I don’t want to be tied to using Accu-Chek test strips. Just not a good fit for me.

Animas: I currently use an Animas Vibe and it is an okay pump although I do not use it as a Dexcom G4 receiver. I have a very difficult time reading the screen in bright sunlight and that has been a real problem when hiking. It has started to lose the date/time info when I change the battery and I would not trust it for very long as an out-of-warranty device. A new Animas pump with Dexcom G5 integration is on the horizon, but there is no timetable for its release. Four years ago I purchased an Animas Ping because the market release of the Vibe was expected to be any day. It was over two years later.

Insulet: I have never been interested in the Omnipod and do not mind pump tubing. Although some Medicare Advantage and Cost plans cover the Pod, basic Medicare does not. As someone moving on to Medicare in four months, there is no reason to fall in love with the Omnipod.

Medtronic: It is mostly a timing problem as described above. I won’t purchase the Minimed 630G because it is a Windows Millennium pump. If you don’t know what that means, you are lucky. We owned several Windows ME computers and they ended up being a very short-lived and poorly-supported generation of computers. If the 670G were available today, I would seriously consider it.

So what’s left???

Tandem: I have decided to go with the Tandem t:slim X2. I am excited to move to a touchscreen device and am especially excited about the integrated Bluetooth and Tandem Updater. Do you notice that I used the word “excited” twice? When I selected the Animas Ping four years ago, I considered the t:slim and passed on it because of the lack of an upgrade program and I didn’t want a rechargeable pump. I never liked my Ping and was jealous of those who “loved” and were “excited” about their t:slims.

A huge selling-point of the X2 is that it will allow users to update the software in the future to accommodate new features, the first being integration with the Dexcom G5 CGM. Automated insulin delivery algorithms are also on the horizon. I personally hope that the Bluetooth connectivity will allow Bluetooth BG meters to automatically populate BG numbers into the pump. Although Medicare does not allow participation in hardwaretslim_x2_insulin_pump_front_view_rgb upgrade programs, my fingers are crossed that software updates will be allowed. I discussed the Medicare problem with my local Tandem Rep and he indicated that Tandem is aware of the issue and hopes to make Medicare recipients eligible for software updates. I know that nothing is guaranteed.

To tell the truth, I still do not want a rechargeable pump. I have always liked the confidence generated by a spare battery in my meter case. But I will adjust.

One Worry:

My individual insurance policy is being cancelled at the end of the year because BCBS of MN is leaving the individual insurance market except for one hugely expensive policy. When I ordered sensors 10 days ago, the supplier indicated that I needed an insurance pre-authorization which I had not needed in several years. I panicked thinking that the insurance company was implementing a year-end money-saving policy of denying DME. I had visions of a new pump being denied. Fortunately Tandem has reviewed my policy and indicated that they are confident the pump will be approved. But until it is safely in my hands, I will worry. (And I did receive the sensors.)

Final Thoughts:

In our family we keep cars a long time. Although my primary car is a 2012 model, I still drive a 1999 SUV several times a week. As I age, it is easy to wonder if my current or next car will be my “last car.” That makes me a little sad because I love the excitement of buying and driving a new car.

I am not yet at the point where I think that the pump I select today will be my “last pump.” But with Medicare’s pump 5-year warranty policy, I am certainly not looking at an unending stream of new insulin devices. At age 64 I hope to have many years of continued good health and many more pumps, but the future is unknown. Will I get the opportunity to use an artificial pancreas-enabled pump? Maybe. Will I quit pumping entirely? Maybe. Will I some day live with implanted beta cells? Doubtful. Will I be cured of diabetes? No. I am not worrying about any of this. It is all in the “I wonder” category.

Today I look forward to using a Tandem X2 pump. Unlike previous pump decisions where I had doubts about the “right” choice, I am confident about this decision. I don’t expect absolute perfection with the X2, but I hope for excitement and the opportunity to have pump hardware that can move into the future with software changes. Fingers crossed.

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Pump comparison charts quickly become out-of-date as new pumps and manufacturers enter and leave the market. If you’re considering an insulin pump purchase, a good place to begin is here and here along with technology articles at Diatribe and Diabetes Mine. Ultimately manufacturer websites and sales reps are an excellent (but biased?) source for current information. And don’t forget to ask your DOC friends for their experiences and opinions.

Not FDA Approved

Laddie_Head SquareAfter my husband and I finished putting up the Christmas tree this morning, I discovered that my Dexcom G4 Share receiver was missing. We searched tree branches, boxes of decorations, upstairs, and downstairs and couldn’t find it. I knew that the receiver was somewhere in the house because I was getting numbers on my phone through the Share app.

My BG at this point was in the 140’s several hours after breakfast and normally I would take a correction bolus. Instead I ate a couple of glucose tabs and hoped that I would hear vibrating alerts as my BG passed over 160. No luck. My BG went up but we heard nothing. (All of my alerts are set to Vibrate.)

Once my BG hit the stratosphere, I gave up on high alerts. My only recourse was to drop below 55 and get the mandatory audio alert. I injected a mega-dose of insulin and got ready for the gluco-coaster ride. Don’t try this at home, Kids.

It took a while but eventually I was below 100 with double down arrows. About this time my husband asked if an ambulance ride would cost more than replacing the receiver. I explained that I had reached my deductible for the year so emergency care would be free…. Then I assured him that I would be okay and ate a couple of Smarties to control the BG drop.

We didn’t hear vibrations as the BG dropped below 70. So it was 55 or Bust!

Finally we heard muffled audio beeps, but we couldn’t figure out where they were coming from. Certainly not near the Christmas tree or the couch or the many boxes where I expected to find it. I’m not sure how many minutes separate each series of alerts—maybe about ten. Finally on the 3rd or 4th round of beeps, we found the receiver upstairs in the pocket of my pajamas.

This should be the end of the story, but it is not. The reason that I had not checked upstairs is that I had been on a 40-minute walk long after getting dressed. I had seen reasonable BG numbers on my Apple Watch while walking and given no thought to the idea that the receiver was not with me.

It turns out that obviously my receiver was upstairs all morning and the number I was seeing on my Apple Watch was from the Watch Sugar app. When the Dex Share app on the phone and watch loses contact with the Dexcom receiver, it displays blank dashes instead of numbers. Had I been using this app during the walk, I would have noticed a problem. But I was checking my watch face with the Watch Sugar complication. Well, I learned today that the Watch Sugar app will keep displaying the last number received whether it is 30 seconds ago or 5 hours ago.

Once my BG returned to normal according to my meter, I turned off the Dex receiver for 20 minutes. As expected, the number 46 for Watch Sugar never changed while the Dexcom Share app (not shown on watch face) quickly showed no data. Hypothesis confirmed.watch-face

Everything is now fine in Diabetes Land.

I found my Dexcom receiver.

My post-Thanksgiving low carb diet got blown to bits with glucose tabs, Smarties, an apple, a pear, yogurt, and an English muffin.

I learned that it is better to keep the Dexcom app open on my watch rather than rely on Watch Sugar.

My BG’s are stable and back in range. Dexcom 91. Freestyle 93.

Just another day with Type 1 diabetes.

Postscript:  Sometimes I think I have little control over my diabetes. Today I felt totally in charge of what I wanted my blood glucose to do. I never felt that I was doing anything dangerous. I was not alone and I had lots of orange juice and glucose tabs available. That being said— please remember that nothing you read on this blog should be considered medical advice or even good advice.

Healthy Lunch Day

Laddie_Head SquareI have been a quiet blogger this November and done little to advertise or celebrate diabetes month. I was an active participant in the Big Blue Test but that was all behind the scenes. I have read the wonderful blogposts by other diabetes advocates and  chosen not to feel guilty for my lack of participation.

This morning I received an email from Chelsea at the American Diabetes Association asking me to participate in the second annual Healthy Lunch Day which is celebrated today. Easy enough because I eat lunch almost every day and it is usually a “healthy” meal!

A salad is my most common lunch and today was no exception. The base was a Mann’s Power Blend containing Brussels sprouts, Napa cabbage, kohlrabi, broccoli, carrots, and kale. I topped it with raspberries, leftover cooked broccoli, a hard-boiled egg, and a yogurt-based dressing. I guessed the carb count to be 18 grams and bolused accordingly.

fullsizeoutput_1a22I tend to spend two or three hours each afternoon at my kitchen table “desk” and like to avoid BG spikes with a lowish carb lunch. I go heavy on vegetables and berries to make up for my oatmeal breakfast that has nothing green or colorful.

So here’s to #HealthyLunchDay and the ADA’s November theme of #ThisIsDiabetes. My lunch was healthy and I have diabetes, so it’s a perfect fit!

Countdown to Medicare with Type 1 Diabetes:  5 Months / Anxiety

Laddie_Head SquareThere are frequent online discussions about addressing mental health issues along with physical concerns when living with diabetes. I am lucky to be mostly immune from things like diabetes burnout and depression. I don’t like diabetes but it doesn’t haunt or slow me down much. I come from a family with a history of depression but its dark clouds have never settled over me for very long. Still…

I have a tendency towards anxiety. The kind of worry that radiates in my chest and aches in my belly. It has never been so crippling that I have felt the need for professional help and I have been helped by progressive relaxation tools I learned from a book many years ago. Deep breathing and exercise also help.

I am very in tune with my anxiety. It surfaces when I need to make a decision or address a problem and I don’t feel in control. Sometimes the issues are trivial or at least very fixable, but my rational brain can’t convince my gut that I shouldn’t be stressed. I won’t call them silly, but my anxiety worries are not life-or-death. Maybe it is a leaky roof. Maybe it is a grandchild getting her feelings hurt. Maybe it is Christmas. Maybe it is thinking about what needs to be done to sell our house and we don’t even plan on selling the house.

Maybe it is Medicare.

I have been trying to get a handle on Medicare options for several months. I haven’t decided whether I know too much or not enough. I wake up many nights at 2:00AM and start thinking about Supplemental versus Cost* plans. I walk the dog and my stomach cramps thinking of Competitive Bidding. Part B insulin and test strip brands are a constant concern. This stuff is important, but not so important that I should be losing sleep.

But anxiety does not always make sense.

I finally have premium costs and plan information for 2017 and I am making worksheets to compare my options. I have only one decision that could have an impact beyond my first year on Medicare and that is the Supplemental versus Cost plan decision. Supplemental (Medigap) policies are only required to accept me (a person with pre-existing conditions)countdown-to-medicare-5-months during the first 6 months that I am on Medicare. After that I can be denied coverage or charged higher rates. At the same time there are guidelines about having guaranteed Medigap rights and some of those scenarios will grant me needed flexibility in the future.

The things that stress me are discrepancies like one plan agreeing that insulin for a pump will be covered under Part B and a similar plan saying it won’t. (That can be a big deal because Part B insulin does not go into donut hole calculations.) I think the plan saying no is wrong, but what do I do about it and do I dare risk signing up with that company? I need to consider that company because it happens to offer CGM coverage. Yes, I am lucky to have the option of CGM coverage with one plan! But I need to consider the whole package, not just one thing. More homework to do.

Another thing that is stressful is trying to figure out what pump and testing supplies cost. For the most part I have been using the negotiated prices from my current BCBS policy. But one friend shared his test strip cost info with me and it looks as though he is paying 20% of what I consider a high retail price compared to what a negotiated price should be. Am I right? Right or wrong it certainly makes me wonder what prices I should be using to figure out my anticipated costs.

Another thing that kicks me in the gut is competitive bidding. This is only relevant if I choose a Supplemental plan because Cost plans use their own suppliers. DPAC has published a couple of blogposts recently that scare the bejesus out of me. One post was written by a person with diabetes on Medicare and the other was written by someone who owns a durable medical equipment company. These are great articles to spur advocacy, but frightening for those of us anticipating Medicare.

One benefit of participating in the DOC is that I have support from other people affected by diabetes. A downside is that I read stories of people having nightmare experiences with Medicare. As a blogger, I get emails from readers sharing their stories and problems. At the same time I know many people with Type 1 who are doing fine on Medicare but those people don’t write much about their experiences. I mostly hear the bad stuff.

anxiety

I have anxiety. Some of it is unreasonable. I live in Minnesota and have several good (not perfect) options for Medicare. My husband still works and his income will provide a buffer from the shortcomings of Medicare. At the same time some anxiety might be reasonable because healthcare reimbursement at all levels in the United States is under siege and people with diabetes are getting hit particularly hard.

I expect that my next Countdown to Medicare post in December will outline some specifics of my choices. Obviously cost is a major concern, but so are things like drug formularies, test strip brands, and requirements for getting pump supplies. I have already eliminated choices that do not network my current doctors and I am looking at the plans of two different companies. It is likely that I will choose a plan that allows me to avoid competitive bidding because anyone with a tendency towards anxiety might not survive that disaster.

More to come. 😀

*

**Minnesota is one of very few states that offers Cost plans. These plans are hybrids that combine features of traditional Medicare and Advantage plans. Most people reading this post will not encounter Cost plans in their Medicare journey.

A Diabetes Data Machine

Laddie_Head SquareI am currently involved in a couple of projects that require tracking my diabetes data. The good part is that some of the data is automatically logged with little or no input from me. The bad part is that I am using 3 different apps on my phone and must enter food information twice. The good part is that I have learned new things about my diabetes. The bad part is that I am uber-involved in the input of data and not paying much attention to the output.

Big Blue Test

Most of you are familiar with the Big Blue Test sponsored by the Diabetes Hands Foundation. Every test logged between October 14 and November 14 will result inBig Blue Test Logo a $3 donation to support people with diabetes. Three charities will receive $5000:  Diabetes Sisters, We Are Diabetes, and the Riverside Community Diabetes Collaborative.

The Big Blue Test is by far the easiest of my current data projects. I use the app on my phone and it’s a quick 30 seconds to record my exercise. Although participation is easy, I am no Big Blue Test slouch. Yesterday I managed to input 5 (!) tests. Dog walk. Gym session. Rake. Rake again. Dog walk. That translates into a $15 donation for diabetes.

If you are participating in the Big Blue Test, keep up the good work. If you are not involved, check out this link to learn more. It’s not just walking and running. You can include housework, yard work, weight work, and dancing. You can help a couple of diabetes groups while receiving the physical and mental benefits of moving your body. Sounds like a win for all.

mySugr Consulting

I continue to be a beta-tester for the mySugr consulting module. As outlined in my September post, mySugr is launching a feature to allow virtual coaching from Gary Scheiner and the team at Integrated Diabetes Services. You can learn more about themysugr-copy program here and here.

Today I am not addressing the coaching experience except to say that Gary Scheiner does a better job of understanding my D-data than I do. Instead I am writing to share that amazingly I am still logging after 3 months!

I am still learning shortcuts for entering my data and have reduced the number of data points I am tracking. I continue to enter food and carb counts, but don’t classify the food anymore as vegetable, meat, etc. Similarly I am not distinguishing between food and correction bolus amounts, just total insulin. What I like about mySugr is the ability to customize my logbook to show only the data points that are important to me and to list them in an order that makes sense to me.

My newest “cool” discovery about mySugr is that if I use the workout app on my Apple Watch, it automatically transfers the activity to mySugr. Another diabetes/life datapoint automatically logged!

Glu and T1D Exchange

Glu is the patient community of the T1D Exchange and provides an easy way to participate in research relating to type 1 diabetes. I am currently part of a study about blood sugar results and treatment satisfaction for T1 adults using pumps or multiple daily injections.blip_logo

The logging requirements of this study are not difficult because most of my data goes into Tidepool’s Blip. If you don’t know about Tidepool and their innovative diabetes apps, check it out here. I download my Animas pump and Freestyle meters once a week. My Dexcom CGM automatically links with the Blip Notes app on my iPhone. My only daily responsibility is to create a Blip note whenever I eat. I click on #food and record the meal with the carb count. To make it easy, I copy and paste the meal info just entered into mySugr. Takes 30 seconds or less.

Where to from here?

The Big Blue Test ends November 14.

The mySugr logging has no end date and I’ll keep at it a while longer. But not forever.

The T1D Exchange study lasts 4 weeks.

I have learned a lot from this intensive logging. I tend to eat a little bit all of the time and now have visual proof that my BG is better when I eat more at meals and reduce snacking. I have done some basal testing and am seeing better CGM tracings. Better basals allow for less snacking.

But I am tired of logging. My head is exploding with numbers and my brain is drowning in data. I am thinking about diabetes too much and will be happy to quit recording my life in a couple of weeks. Being a diabetes data machine is fine for a while, but for me the benefit gets lost when I do it too long. For sure I will quit before Thanksgiving because there is no way I want to start the holiday season being accountable for my food decisions….

 

Thoughts on Patient Empowerment

Laddie_Head SquareI recently read two articles by Dr. Niran S. Al-Agba, a pediatrician in Washington State and blogger at MommyDoc. I discovered her posts through KevinMD.com and have added her blog to my Feedly list. As a grandmother with 40 years of Type 1 diabetes, you might wonder why I plan to follow the writings of this young pediatrician. I think it is because her thoughtful views on the roles of patients and physicians in our healthcare system (or lack thereof?) give voice to some of my opinions and experiences.

The first article I read was titled “Building Better Metrics: Focus on Patient Empowerment.” Mid-article Dr. Al-Agba writes something that many of us who use insulin believe is essential: “Patient-centered care is often talked about as a virtue worthwhile to attain because it puts them at the heart of their healthcare team. Empowerment goes one step further by actually giving power and authority to the patient.”

She goes on to share the characteristics of an “empowered activated patient” as listed by ENOPE (European Network on Patient Empowerment):

  • Understands their health condition and its effect on their body.
  • Feels able to participate in decision-making with their healthcare professionals.
  • Feels able to make informed choices about treatment.
  • Understands the need to make necessary changes to their lifestyle for managing their condition.
  • Is able to challenge and ask questions of the healthcare professionals providing their care.
  • Takes responsibility for their health and actively seeks care only when necessary.
  • Actively seeks out, evaluates and makes use of information.

I don’t know about you, but I believe this list describes me and many of us living with diabetes. At least most of the time.

The second article by Dr. Al-Agba is titled “Building Better Metrics: Patient Satisfaction Can Be Done Right!” Building on the first article, she writes that physicians are often more comfortable with “standards of care” and need to become more comfortable in the role of giving information, sharing options, and empowering patients to take more control. She goes on to discuss that sometimes that means disagreeing with a patient’s decision while respecting the right of the patient to make that decision.

That idea really hit home for me based on a recent experience with a new physician. My longtime internist retired this summer and suggested that I follow one of his younger partners to a nearby clinic that is part of a large provider system. Until now all of my doctors have been part of independent clinics. Such practices are starting to be an anomaly in big cities and I was not opposed to moving into a “system.” I knew that it wasdoctor-patient-respect probably a good idea to narrow my network of doctors as I look to future health insurance and Medicare restrictions.

In August I had my annual physical with the new internist. He asked several questions and for the most part seemed to accept my answers. Many queries seemed to be coming from a computer-generated checklist which I suspect was labeled “Old Lady with Diabetes.” I had to fight the urge to say “Hey, that’s not me!”–because of course that is me. Our only area of conflict was over statins which I have resisted up until now. In May I wrote about my previous doctor’s support for my decision to avoid that class of drugs. I felt a bit bullied by the new doctor but given that it was his first week in the new system, our first meeting, and already an overly long appointment, I decided to let it go. And I agreed to give statins a try.

Two months later I am experiencing clear side effects from the statin drug and have chosen to stop taking it. One thing that I love about my new medical system is a complete online health record along with the ability to send secure messages to my health team. I was able to share my statin decision without talking to anyone or feeling that I was hiding something from the new medical team. I wrote several drafts of the email and believe that I ended up with a respectful but confident and empowered message.

I did not get a reply to the message nor did I expect one. I am sure that it will be a item of discussion next time I see this doctor. I am very comfortable with the idea that he can strongly disagree with my decision. However, I need to feel that he respects my right to make that decision. If not, I will look for a new internist. However, based on most of the August appointment, I am optimistic that as we get to know each other, we will do just fine. Fingers crossed.

Back to the Future:  Dexcom G4 Share and Apple Watch

Laddie_Head SquareIn the last 10 days, my diabetes technology world has changed. On one hand I have reverted to an older tech platform. On the other hand I have zoomed into the future with a modern and cool-for-a-64-year-old-woman device.

Stepping Back:  After getting my free(!) upgrade to the Dexcom G5 last fall, I was lucky to be left with an unused G4 transmitter. I didn’t start using the G5 until March when my previous G4 transmitter passed its 1-year anniversary. It was still working fine, but I abandoned it to transition to the G5 platform. A bit wasteful, but gee whiz, that transmitter was never going to die! I used two G5 transmitters and for the most part was happy with G5.

That unused G4 transmitter did not disappear and kept sending “Use Me! Use Me!” messages to my brain inbox. If I were not moving to Medicare and no CGM coverage in 6 months, I probably would have used my “privileged diabetes patient” status to stay with G5 and give the unused G4 transmitter to a  needy DOC friend.

Last weekend my second G5 transmitter timed out and I bit the bullet to go back to G4. My CGM warranty expired in early September and I was able to order a new G4 Share receiver. Although it had only been 6+ months since I had last used Share, I panicked as it seemed totally foreign to me. Also because I am using the mySugr logbook, I needed to be sure that my CGM information would continue to sync to the app. Miraculously I figured everything out and it is working correctly.

Onward to the Future:  Earlier this fall I decided that I would use my #firstworldprivilege to order an Apple Watch so that I could see my current blood sugar just by raising my wrist. Please remember that I started my diabetes career in the days of urine testing and things like this are magical to me.d-tech-privilege-circle

My Apple Watch 2 arrived last week. I have not worn a wristwatch in 12+ years since I got my first insulin pump, aka pocket watch. It wasn’t terribly difficult to add the Share app to the watch and it works okay. Unfortunately it cannot be used as a watch face “complication” like the G5 app. There is another app called “Watch Sugar” that allows me to add the Dexcom number to my watch face, but it is so time-delayed that I don’t find it helpful.

Basically I leave the Dexcom Share app open on the watch all of the time and it is usually what I see first when I raise my wrist. When Share is not the wake-up screen, it is easy to find the app in the dashboard and restore it. My difficulty with this whole set-up is that occasionally it just doesn’t work. If I am using other Bluetooth devices such as headphones or a speaker, I think the phone gets confused and occasionally loses the signal from the Dexcom receiver. There are also user-error problems such as leaving the receiver upstairs or closing out the Share app on my phone.

Clash of the Past and Future:  The bad part about these D-tech changes is that now I have two more devices to carry, coordinate, and charge than I did two weeks ago. The G4 requires a receiver and of course the watch is added. The blood glucose number that I see on my wrist starts with the transmitter beaming info to the receiver which communicates with the phone that sends it to the watch. There is definitely some mental fatigue and data overload with this set-up. At the same time I love not having to reach into my pocket to retrieve Dexcom data.

Life is good. It might would be nice if I didn’t diabetes but that horse left the barn a long time ago. So today I give thanks for access to technology that make my life with diabetes a little bit easier and a lot more interesting. 😀

Countdown to Medicare with Type 1 Diabetes: 6 Months / The Journey

Laddie_Head SquareI occasionally have readers who contact me by email rather than leave comments on my blogposts. Kathy K from New York is one of those readers. She and I have an amazingly number of things in common. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1974 at age 23 after recently graduating from school and getting married. I was diagnosed in 1976 at age 24 after recently graduating from school and getting married. She has 2 children and 5 grandchildren. I have 2 children and 5 grandchildren. Do you see a pattern here?

Kathy is a few steps ahead of me in the Medicare process. Today she has written about some of her experiences as a newcomer to Medicare. There is no doubt that she knows “diabetes.” In addition to living with Type 1, she is a retired RN and BSN Certified Diabetes Educator.

Welcome, Kathy K from New York, and I hope that this is the first of many guest posts!

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The Journey that is Medicare

kathy-krieg-headshotThank goodness that I found Laddie. I was fuming with frustration trying to get my first prescriptions, pump supplies and strips through Medicare. Even though Laddie is not quite there yet, her blog regarding her journey toward Medicare eligibility sounded exactly like mine.

The  psychological profile of most persons with Type 1 diabetes who use an insulin pump probably include such traits as independence, controlling, problem solving and motivated. (well maybe that’s just me!) I have lived with Type 1 diabetes for 42 years and thankfully had excellent health insurance and a wonderful physician willing to let me “run the show”

What a shock to realize that Medicare regulations takes all that away. You all know how we make sure we have enough pump supplies on hand, strips to cover frequent testing and insulin. I am here to tell you to be sure to have enough on hand to withstand ins and outs of new insurance rules.

Some of the biggies are Medicare does not cover CGM. Only 100 test strips are allowed if you take insulin and calculating your individual costs for medications is an accounting nightmare! But wait, there’s more to share. Do not take any of those restrictions at face value. My motto “Never take NO for an answer.” As many people that you call looking for help, that’s as many different answers you can get for the very same question.

Here is what I found out along my journey.  I am now knee deep in the muddy waters of Medicare coverage. Medicare has been approving some CGMs. A very specific appeal process needs to be followed but even courts have directed Medicare to approve of these devices. With that said, contact your supplier for help. They will probably offer you a decreased price for persons who have to pay out of pocket. My experience with Medtroniccountdown-to-medicare-6-months is that before you order supplies, you have to sign a disclaimer that states:  1) bill Medicare the full price and you will proceed with the appeals process to get the bill for $473.00 for a box of 5 sensors. If the appeal fails, you are responsible for the entire amount. Or 2) I want the sensors but will pay a decreased price up front now and cannot then bill Medicare and go through the appeals process. This price is about 45% off or approximately $260.

Another fact to keep in mind for those on an insulin pump, the insulin used in the infusion device is covered under Part B of your Medicare health insurance. Do not back down on this one. Find a pharmacy that has experience billing this way and use them. For me that was Walgreens. My Walmart pharmacist looked at me like I had two heads when when I was trying to explain this. I have a Medicare supplement policy that picks up all costs that are not paid by Medicare. So my cost $0!! Yep, that’s right—$0 for my Humalog insulin. My infusion sets and reservoirs are also covered under this same policy. That is one of my biggest successes in this journey. A new order for pump supplies, for me reservoirs and infusion sets, cannot be started until you only have 5 sets left!!! or 81 days from the previous order.

Another change I encountered is that I can no longer get my test strips from the pump company. There is a bidding process for providers in some areas and whomever Medicare chooses as the winner of the bid is the type of strips and the place where you need get them. Additionally, you will only be allowed 100 strips per month. Not nearly enough for me and probably you too! Once again Medicare also known as CMS, has a process for appeal. You need to supply a log of your tests and a physician note documenting the need. I have yet to submit for strips. I am not due to reorder yet.

Lastly, at least for now, is drug coverage. This is the biggest stumbling block for me. I tried the mail order supplier the insurance company suggested. I am quite dissatisfied with this company and that is another long story. I am finding it difficult to follow how much each of my medications cost and how far down the line to the donut hole I am. Hopefully, that’s a learning curve I will master soon.

DISCLAIMER:  Please do your own research into your specific state and insurance companies regulations. This is just my experience in the journey that is Medicare.

ONE MORE THING:  I have an additional psychological trait. I am so stubborn with a 2 year-old’s “ME DO IT!” attitude. Hummmm… A 2 year-old battles Medicare! Stay tuned.

Congrats to Medtronic!

Laddie_Head SquareUnless you are living in an underground bunker, you know that Medtronic Diabetes announced yesterday that the MiniMed 670G hybrid closed loop system has been approved by the FDA with anticipated shipping in the spring of 2017. Here’s a link to the press release if you haven’t read it yet.

Am I excited about this? Absolutely yes!!! Will I purchase it? Absolutely not!!!

You may think that I won’t purchase this because I am currently a Dexcom and Animas user. You may think that I won’t purchase this because I’m mad about the United Healthcare/Medtronic agreement. You may think that I won’t purchase this because “The Cure” will be here in five years. No, those are not the reasons. What is preventing me from pursuing this device is my next pump and CGM is ⚡️⚡️⚡️⚡️

Those lightening bolts are supposed to grab your attention and make you sit on the edge of your seat as I explain my predicament.

My issue is that I am going on Medicare in April 2017 after having my current pump go out of warranty in December 2016. I long ago satisfied my deductible for 2016 and if I purchase a pump before the end of the year, it will be at no cost. The individual health insurance market in Minnesota is in chaos and I plan to purchase the cheapest insurance plan possible for January through March 2017. It will be expensive despite a high deductible. No way can I purchase a new pump in that time frame.

So my choice is to purchase a pump in early December or enter 2017 with an out-of-110089warranty pump and wait until Medicare. A naive advisor might suggest that I buy the Medtronic 630G in December knowing that those buyers will be the first in line for the 670G pump when it is released in the spring. But guess what! Once you get on Medicare, it is against Medicare law for beneficiaries to participate in upgrade programs. So if I purchase a 630G, that will be my pump for the next 4-5 years because I will not be allowed to upgrade to the 670G.

A Medtronic representative told me on Saturday that the 630G is now being reimbursed by Medicare. The sensors are not Medicare-eligible, but at least the pump is covered. If I wait hoping to purchase a 670G after April 1, the most likely possibility is that it will not be covered by Medicare for quite a while. Hopefully I am wrong on that.

I am excited that the FDA has approved the MiniMed 670G. Medtronic is not calling it an  artificial pancreas, but it is an important step on the journey to complete insulin automation. That is good for all of us excited about the future of diabetes technology.

But for me, it is not in the game. My reimbursement scenarios just don’t fit the timing of this release. Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that I currently use Dexcom after several unhappy years with Medtronic SofSensors. The Guardian Sensor 3 that is part of the 670G is many generations removed from that nightmare and I would be open to trying them. But it would be too big a leap of faith to move back to Medtronic without a trial run. Maybe that will be possible in the future when hopefully, hopefully, hopefully CGM/pump systems will be reimbursable under Medicare.

Today my options are too tangled and uncertain to make the MiniMed 670G part of my plans. But I will still camp out in the grandstands with other diabetes advocates yelling “Congrats!” to Medtronic. We live in a golden age of diabetes tech. Unfortunately we also live in a stone age of diabetes reimbursement for those of us who are approaching age 65 and older.

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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