In January 2010 I started using the Dexcom Seven Plus Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM). I had wanted to go on the FreeStyle Navigator CGM System because of its reputation for accuracy, but I went to the Syracuse Joslin Center to meet with the certified diabetes educator, she advised me to go on the Dexcom Seven Plus instead. I reluctantly agreed. Of course it turned out to be the right decision because not long after that Abbott stopped selling the Navigator in the U.S.
Anyone who uses the Dexcom knows what a life changer it is with controlling blood sugars. I used to have at least two severe overnight hypoglycemic episodes every month. I’ve only had one since going on the Dexcom. Yes, there are nights when my husband and I are woken repeatedly by Dexcom alerts for high or low blood sugar. However, that is a small price to pay to avoid waking up wet with sweat and seeing my husband sitting next to me with a concerned look on his face. What he went through to bring me to back to consciousness was much worse. I know that experience because our son also has Type 1 diabetes and I have been on the caregiver side of severe hypoglycemia.
A year after going on the Seven Plus, my personal diabetes manager (PDM) that controls the sensor went out of warranty. In February 2011 Dexcom sent me a new one. I had changed from one Blue Cross insurance plan to another during the year, and although my new company had been paying for the sensors, they sent me a letter of denial stating the following:
“According to Corporate Medical Policy and peer-reviewed literature, continuous glucose monitoring systems are medically appropriate for patients who are currently using an external insulin pump and, for patients over 18 years of age, diabetes is poorly controlled as evidenced by unexplained severe hypoglycemic episodes defined as an episode of low blood sugar resulting in a profound degree of cognitive dysfunction (e.g., stupor, seizure or unconsciousness) which requires external assistance for recovery. The medical records submitted by Dexcom do not indicate any of the above conditions. Therefore, these services are not medically necessary and are ineligible for coverage for DOS 2/15/11.”
I immediately called the insurance company and was told that I could appeal the decision. I composed a letter of appeal stating that both Dexcom and I had called to get authorization before the replacement PDM was shipped. Dexcom had sent them records of my blood sugars and my endocrinologist’s letter of medical necessity. When I had called, I was told that no pre-authorization was needed, just the letter of medical necessity. So we both thought we were good to go. In the letter, I detailed numerous episodes of severe hypoglycemia, one resulting in cuts after falling into a glass table (luckily it was safety glass), and sometimes needing assistance from medics or transport to the emergency room. I provided them with a copy of the bill from the hospital, as well as printed reports showing numerous blood sugar readings below 50 from my Dexcom and OmniPod pump. In my final paragraph, I stated:
“In consideration of the fact that I am using an external insulin pump, over 18 years of age, and I have poorly controlled diabetes as evidenced by unexplained severe hypoglycemic episodes resulting in a profound degree of cognitive dysfunction, I believe that the CGM provided by Dexcom is in fact medically necessary for the effective management of my blood sugars. In the event that I were to discontinue use of the Dexcom, I believe that I would resume having severe hypoglycemia episodes that would require outside assistance, i.e. a 911 call for assistance and/or emergency room hospitalization, and have higher A1C’s and increased variability in my blood sugar ranges.”
In June they reversed their decision and paid Dexcom.
I have since transitioned to the Dexcom G4 Platinum CGM and now enjoy increased accuracy and ease of use.
In two years I will be of Medicare age and I know that all the rules regarding continuous glucose monitors will be different. I am thankful for people like Sue from Pennsylvania who is assisting her Type 1 husband in appealing Medicare’s denial of payment with an administrative law judge. I pray that they and others will pave the way for Medicare to change their policy of nonpayment for CGM systems so that Type 1’s can continue to stay safe in their retirement years.