Medicare and Dexcom G6: Yes!?!

There is a lot of discussion on social media this week about Dexcom G6 finally being available for Medicare recipients. Most of it is personal testimony along with a few links and guesses of what the story is. But some seniors are definitely ordering G6 systems and that is great news. I have heard from two sources that Dexcom will be sending current Medicare G5 users “A LETTER.” But now that the cat’s out of the bag, many of us are not patiently waiting for instructions from Dexcom.

The most information about G6 Medicare availability is on the Dexcom Provider website. This link details the steps a physician should go through to prescribe a G6 for Medicare patients:

https://provider.dexcom.com/support/medicare-coverage-and-prescribing-information

Interestingly Walgreen’s is being mentioned as the go-to supplier. Walgreen’s is licensed to dispense Part B DME for Medicare because that is how they have for many years provided test strips, insulin for pumps, and other DME products. Patients are also allowed to use other approved DME suppliers to get their Dexcom G6 and I have chosen to use Solara Medical which provides my pump supplies. Although I am mostly a satisfied Walgreen’s customer, they do periodically bill my Part B insulin to my Part D prescription plan and I don’t want to give them the chance to do the same with my CGM supplies. Hopefully the Dexcom-Walgreen’s partnership will be successful but I suspect it will take a while to work seamlessly.

Here are a couple more helpful links:

Medicare FAQ’s:  https://provider.dexcom.com/faqs-categories/medicare

DME suppliers other than Walgreens:  https://www.dexcom.com/medicare-coverage

I have no idea what the Dexcom letter will say or if there really is one. I do know that upgrade eligibility will require that it be at least 90 days since since the most recent G5 transmitter was shipped. I was somewhat concerned by the following statement on the provider FAQ’s webpage addressing existing Medicare patients: “New Medicare patients will have access to Dexcom G6 immediately, and we will begin upgrading existing Dexcom G5 Medicare patients soon.”

Since I have lived with Dexcom’s definitions of “soon” and “next quarter” for over a year, I was not willing to wait to see what happens. I called Solara this morning and a sales specialist placed my order. Solara will contact my endocrinologist for a prescription and the required chart notes. My last G5 transmitter shipped on August 6 and my G6 system should be eligible to be shipped on November 5. My G5 receiver is the old style and not able to be updated to G6. Therefore my initial G6 shipment will include a touchscreen receiver. Medicare regulations still require that a receiver be used occasionally to view Dexcom data although there is currently no enforcement of the policy. I think it is a “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” situation and a reflection of the fact that CMS has no interest in diving into the black hole of trying to update Medicare DME policies. Because Dexcom Clarity does reflect what devices I use to collect my CGM data, I try to use the receiver a day or two every couple of months. That seems “occasional” enough to me….

I am mostly happy with my Dexcom G5. But I use a Tandem pump and have been very frustrated at my inability to access Basal IQ because I don’t have a Dexcom G6. I truly believe that Basal IQ will improve my safety and sleep as it shuts off insulin delivery in response to predicted lows. Whether I use Basal IQ all of the time or just at night will be determined in the next couple of months. 

Nothing about this blogpost is official although it shares some legitimate facts through the Dexcom provider links. Other than that, it is what I have learned on Facebook from other Medicare Dex users and by talking with a sales rep at Solara Medical. Until a Dexcom G6 system arrives on my front porch, I will only hope that the road that I have chosen to G6 is a good one. If any of my readers has more information, opinions, or G6 experience, please share in the comments.

But I am smiling today because I was worried that today might never come….

A Looping Failure

A few days ago I unscrewed the top of my RileyLink case, removed the tiny circuit board, and disconnected the battery. I put the box of pods back in the closet and retrieved my Tandem pump from the medical supply clutter box.

I am officially declaring my Looping experiment to be over.

If you don’t know what Looping is, it is a user-created app for an automated insulin delivery system that pairs an Omnipod or old Medtronic pump, a CGM, and a computer algorithm. If you want to learn more, read Loop Docs and check out the Looped Facebook group. Earlier this summer with files made available by the rockstars of the Do-It-Yourself community, I used my Mac laptop and a newly-acquired Apple Developer Account to create the Loop app on my iPhone. It was a miraculous experience for an experienced person with diabetes and a relatively inexperienced techie.

But I hated the pods. They often hurt and my insulin absorption was erratic. The occasional dark red/purple bruises were quite horrible and proof that diabetes can be a blood and gore sport. Some days the pods worked great. Other days I would bolus and bolus (or Loop would basal and basal) with seemingly no effect on my blood sugar. 

Previous to the opportunity to try Looping with an Omnipod, I was never interested in pods. I was convinced that they would be more awkward on my body than a tubed pump and infusion set. This feeling is why it is important to have CHOICE for those of us with diabetes. As much as I hate pods, there are people who despise tubes and love podding. I started using pods a few weeks before starting to Loop and quickly discovered that even changing pods every two days didn’t give consistent results. But I was excited at the possibility of automated insulin delivery and persevered.

In order to have success Looping, your pump settings must be close to perfect. Basal rates, bolus ratios, and insulin sensitivity factors are hugely important. My experience was that settings which worked well one day were abysmally wrong the next day. Because of my variable results with pods, I was pessimistic that I could get settings that would work consistently.

But it would be unfair to blame all of my Looping problems on pods. I was an emotional Looper and incredibly impatient when things didn’t go well. Instead of methodically problem-solving, I either randomly changed pump settings or in frustration went back to my Tandem pump for a couple of days. I was not good at relinquishing control over my insulin delivery and couldn’t move past 42 years of being the brain for my diabetes.

All along I have known that my future is with Tandem. In the last year I have been frustrated at my inability to use Basal IQ because of Dexcom’s delay in providing seniors with the Dexcom G6. But it will come and I am cautiously excited about the Tandem Control IQ hybrid-closed loop that that will be available late this year or early next. I thought Looping would be a good experiment for the months while I continue to wait for G6. 

Longterm using an Omnipod is incredibly expensive under Medicare in comparison to a tubed pump. My Tandem pump, its supplies, and insulin are covered under Part B where Basic Medicare pays 80% of the cost and my Supplemental plan pays the remaining 20%. Thus I have no out-of-pocket cost. Omnipod is covered under Medicare Part D pharmacy benefits. With my Cigna plan, the pods were Tier 3 with a $405 annual deductible and then hefty copays. Plus my insulin was provided under Tier 3 pharmacy benefits with copays and donut-hole repercussions. 

One reason that it was easy for me to abandon Loop is that prior to Looping, my diabetes numbers were mostly “in range.” Interestingly I compared 2-week Dexcom Clarity reports between Looping and my Tandem pump and the statistics were virtually identical. My hope with Looping was to reduce the mental burden of diabetes and it never really happened. I had some wonderful overnights where Loop prevented lows and highs and I woke up at a steady BG of 93. But I had just as many nights with constant Dexcom low and high alarms. In general I wasn’t one of the experienced and ecstatic Loopers who saw meaningful improvements in their diabetes life. And remember I was too impatient to keep working at it.

Will I try Looping again? Maybe, maybe not. There were things I loved about Looping: being in charge of my settings, targets, and alerts, controlling my diabetes from my iPhone and Apple Watch, and the potential to free up brain width that never rests with diabetes. The Looping community is incredible with help, expertise, and support given to all-comers (except the grouchy ones). Automated insulin delivery is the future but we are still limited by hardware, the speed of insulin, and the infinite complexity of Type 1 diabetes.

Today I am very comfortable with my decision to abandon Looping. I am relieved to be back using a tubed pump with less pain and somewhat more predictable results. There are definite warts using my Tandem pump with occasional occlusion alarms and non-customizable annoying alerts. But I am comfortable being back to “what I know.” I learned a lot while Looping and for sure gained more appreciation of how incredibly difficult it is to manage diabetes. I was once again reminded that while improvement is possible, perfection is not.

If you are interested in Looping, I encourage you to check it out. My experience was only my experience and not an indication of how the system will work for you. Lots of people are having great success with this do-it-yourself app and I am grateful for having had the opportunity to Loop and then the opportunity not to Loop.

Diabetes, Just Tell Me!

Lately I have been having days, well actually weeks when I am starting to question how I deal with my diabetes. I have used an insulin pump for 15 years and don’t really want to change back to injections. For me a pump is more convenient and allows multiple basal rates and easy bolusing through the day. I have used a continuous glucose monitor for 10 years and can’t or don’t want to imagine doing without the constant blood glucose numbers on my phone and watch. 

But lately I feel as though my tech has been failing me and I’ll show that through a couple of photos below.

The first day of a new Dexcom G5 sensor:

The graph of a pod starting to fail after less than two days. The downslope reflects a new pod:

But what if it isn’t my tech? What if it is just my body and my diabetes? I have seen a ton of crazy up arrows on my Dexcom in recent weeks and many of them have been unexpected. I am quick to blame the sensor but unfortunately most of the time my meter has confirmed the Himalayan-esque rises and falls. But sometimes it is the sensor. I have had numerous high BG numbers that have not resolved until I changed out a Tandem infusion set or these days, a new Pod. But sometimes the highs are from last night’s pizza or the second or third glass of wine. 

Most of the time I just don’t know. Why doesn’t diabetes just tell me the answer!?!

I know that my life is a constant science experiment and I am usually pretty good at figuring out what is going on. Although I get frustrated, angry, and guilty at some of my aberrant Dexcom graphs, I do my best to correct the numbers as quickly as possible. My A1c’s continue to be good and I feel good most of the time. And when I don’t feel good, arthritis is the culprit not endocrine issues. But Type 1 is always in the background laughing at my attempts at perfection. I‘m caught in the hamster wheel of trying to get it right. All of the time. But not changing my ways.

Sometimes I think the hardest part of diabetes is not always knowing the “why’s” of what is going on. Is my rising blood sugar this evening a result of what I ate for dinner? Or is my infusion site giving out? Is there a problem with air in my pump cartridge? Is the insulin old and compromised by the heat of my rechargeable pump battery? Most of us are familiar with the list that Adam Brown of Diatribe compiled titled “42 Factors That Affect Blood Glucose.” They all make sense but a checklist of possibilities doesn’t always help me dig out of today’s hole.

Why can’t degraded insulin turn purple? Why can’t my Dexcom have a footnote specifying whether a number is reliable or fantasy? Why can’t my body tell me whether an early morning high is hormones or a pod gone bad? Why can’t I have the type of diabetes that only drifts high and low instead of Dex double-upping or double-downing? I could go on with more why’s but I think you get the picture. 

To tell you the truth, I suspect that if blood glucose numbers were the #1 aim in my life, I would be better served by eating a Bernstein-ian ultra low carb diet and using a cocktail of insulin by injection. Although tech is great, I am lately not finding it to be very reliable. But I am stubborn and am somewhat addicted to the toys and challenge of diabetes tech.

So instead of going back to the basics, I am currently using an Omnipod in anticipation of starting to Loop. I have used three pods and not one of them has made it to 48 hours before soaring blood sugars. And I don’t know why. The idea that Looping with Omnipod is going to be successful for me is probably a pipe dream.

I think I might be dealing with diabetes distress but that’s not the subject of this post….

March Miscellany

It is a new month and time for opinionated comments and updates.

It Shouldn’t Be This Hard:  Earlier this week I ordered my February Medicare bundle from Dexcom. I am also in the process of trying to get my 90-day insulin prescription under Medicare Part B. I’ll politely say with no curse words that none of this is going well. I am turning into the “Always-B*tching Blogger” because this stuff is so hard. And it shouldn’t be. I am just trying to do what I did last month and the month before with Dexcom and 3, 6, 9 months ago with Walgreens and insulin. 

I will eventually get out of Dexcom “Processing” limbo and my supplies will be  shipped. Some Medicare recipients have been told that shipments are delayed 7-10 days due to high volume. Long call waits, shipments delays, and moving Call Support to the Philippines have not made Dexcom a popular company in the diabetes online community. ‘Nuff said. And Walgreens will figure out how to get Medicare coverage for my insulin.

At the same time, I like the ring of Always-B*tching Blogger and you can just think of me as ABB!

The Weather:  I have spent winters in Arizona for 15+ years and have never seen snow. That changed last week with 3 inches of the white stuff. Fortunately despite a few downed tree limbs, we had little damage. 

Finally spring has arrived and the Arizona that I know and love is back.

Ground Squirrels:  Although my landscape and flowers survived the snow, I am totally losing the battle with ground squirrels. These horrible creatures are “protected” in Arizona and my exterminator isn’t allowed to poison them. Plantskyd which deters rabbits and deer in Minnesota is impotent. My normally gorgeous March geraniums are decimated. This photo is one day after replanting and an ample dosing of Plantskyd.

The Dog:  All of my readers are kind to read about my dog and her journey through aging and illness. I have come to terms with her limitations and the fact that we only walk half a block twice a day. Otherwise she is happy, eats well, drinks well, poops well, plays fetch with her Bouda giraffe, and wags her tail. Despite me being her caretaker, feeder, medicine dispenser, Bouda thrower, etc., she loves my husband the best and delegates me to #2. Like a teenager, she loves baking in the sun on our back patio.

Animas/Medtronic/Tandem: My Animas pump went out of warranty in late 2016, but I still get emails from Animas and Medtronic about switching to a Medtronic pump system. I am committed to Dexcom and see Tandem and maybe Omnipod as my future. Until Medtronic sensors are reimbursed by Medicare, there is no way that I will take a chance on a CGM that is out-of-pocket. At the same time I have struggled for 2+ years with occlusion alarms on my Tandem X2 and have been back using my Animas Vibe trouble-free for the last 3 months. 

Kinda Whole 30: I have written about Whole 30 and my imperfection at succeeding through 30 days. But I periodically go back on the reset diet and am amazed at how fabulous my blood sugars react to no dairy and no grains. I eat a ton of fruit on this diet and get no spikes. Because I have hosted two dinner parties in the last week, I have once again have strayed from perfect adherence and have had wine. But here is a 24-hour Dexcom tracing that speaks for itself.

Thank-you.  As always, I am grateful for my online diabetes contacts. Keep up the good fight, my friends, and keep in touch. Without you, my diabetes would be really, really hard instead of just really hard. Diabetes social media makes a difference. 

Days in a Month with Diabetes

30 days hath September,

April, June and November.

All the rest have 31.

And February’s great with 28

                                     And Leap Year’s February’s fine with 29.

Medicare rations diabetes supplies on a strict 30-day or 90-day cycle. My Medicare suppliers are even worse and tend to think that months have 35 days and quarters have about 95-100 days.

Unfortunately no one has communicated that to my diabetes which trucks along with a strict 24/7/365 (or 24/7/366 in a Leap year) schedule.

I continue to rejoice that my Dexcom G5 CGM is covered by Medicare, but it has been frustrating that Medicare currently requires Dexcom to send out supplies monthly rather than quarterly. The personnel and shipping costs for Dexcom for this monthly distribution are probably substantial and every month seems to leak a few days between shipments. In 2018 most of my shipments were a couple of days to a week late and over the course of 12 months, I only received 11 Dexcom shipments. My guess is that my experience is reflective of that of most Medicare beneficiaries. That means that Dexcom lost one monthly subscription fee for each of us and that is a lot of money for a small company. I was lucky to come into Medicare with a cushion of CGM supplies and I have been okay with constantly late deliveries. I also know about Spike and xDrip where you can reset G5 transmitters to last longer than the software-mandated death of 90-104 days. But some Medicare users have had to go without their CGM when sensors and particularly transmitters have been delayed. There is sometimes an excuse such as backordered transmitters or insurance verification. This month I placed my order on the designated day and the very nice Dexcom rep offered no excuse when she said it wouldn’t ship for another week.

I have been most impacted by pump supplies. I went on Medicare in April of 2017 and I received my 4 boxes of pump supplies like clockwork. Medicare strictly requires that each infusion set will last 3 days and allows no cushion for painful or failed sites. Or aging skin and tissue which require 2 day sets changes. Or steel cannula sets which mandate a 2 day change. In 2017 my doctor’s letter of medical necessity for 4 boxes instead of 3 was accepted and I got the needed supplies. My first order of 2018 was shorted a box and the supplier was unwilling to work with me to override the restriction. I switched suppliers and seeming the override was fine. But they sent the order 10 days late. In infusion set language, 10 days is half a box of supplies for me. Then 3 months later, they wouldn’t send my order until 92 days had passed. Then the next order was another 10 days late. 

I have recently switched to Tandem TruSteel sets and seem to have better insulin absorption than with my previous VariSoft sets. And guess what! You can move the needle part of the set, reinsert it, and tape it down to get another day or two from the set. After two days, 90% of my TruSteel sites are slightly inflamed. So you go, Grandma!. Pull out the needle and tack it into another location. So far I have had no real infections and fortunately am very pain-sensitive and don’t try to extend puffy sites. But we all know that one ER visit or hospitalization would quickly blast past my Medicare-approved cost of $5.91 per infusion set.

Meanwhile diabetes keeps trucking along.

1, 2, 3, 4…..90 days.

If I did not extend infusion sets and have a stash, I would run out of supplies. 

Medicare teaches you to lie. When you call your supplier to renew your 90-day supply, you can’t have more than a week (or is it 10 days?) worth of pump supplies in your D-tub. I would never in a million years be comfortable being down to 3 or 4 infusion sets before ordering more. With Dexcom the policy seem to be more liberal and I can get 5 sensors and 3 boxes of test strips if I am out of supplies. But even a failed transmitter doesn’t seem to get me better than 3-day shipping. My suppliers have failed me in the past and I don’t trust them to bail me out in an emergency. So I always tell them that I have fewer supplies than I really have. Because….

Diabetes keeps trucking along.

I have never sold excess supplies and I no longer share excess supplies. But as someone who has lived with Type 1 diabetes for 42 years, I know that I cannot risk being without insulin for 5 minutes or pump supplies for 5 hours or CGM supplies for 5 days. 

One of my Medicare diabetes online friends once told me that every 90 days she feels as though she is recreating the wheel and resetting her diabetes life. With Dexcom it is every 30 days.

I get it now. That’s the game. And that is the game I play.

Moving into 2019: Diabetes and Not Diabetes

We’re ten days into 2019 and life is the same. But not really the same. Oh yeah, it’s probably the same but it’s nice to use the reset of a new year to check out where I am. With things related to diabetes. And things not related to diabetes.

Geographical change:

I abandon the cold of Minnesota every year after Christmas and snowbird my way to Arizona for 4 months. I have been here about two weeks and we are finally warming up after super cold temperatures and snow in the mountains. We have had a couple of rainy days but mostly the sun shines and my spirits soar. I don’t have to worry about slipping on the Minnesota ice.

Diabetes Stuff:

In early December I wrote about going back to my Animas Vibe pump due to occlusion alarms and other frustrations with my Tandem X2 pump. I went back to the X2 for my endocrinologist appointment later in December because I want my medical records to show nothing other than Tandem use. Medicare Part B insulin and pump supplies require the serial number of my pump and I don’t want to risk coverage nor do I want to put my endocrinologist in a situation of having to fudge on what pump I am using. Then because I was traveling to Arizona, I wanted to wear my in-warranty pump so that if the second pump in my suitcase was lost because of shenanigans while I was being groped by TSA, it would be the old “worthless” pump.

But very quickly in Arizona, I got frustrated again with occlusion alarms on my Tandem pump. So I ditched it again and am back to my Animas pump. I called Tandem to report that I was having occlusion alarms and indicated that I just wanted that on my record not a pump replacement. Since I have had occlusion alarms with three different Tandem pumps, I am not optimistic that a new pump will make a difference and I don’t want to deal with it until I have access to the Dexcom G6 and Basal IQ. For Medicare users, that is expected to start happening in April. Until then I will continue with my workhorse Animas pump that delivers insulin and never has occlusion alarms or other intrusions into my life. As always, please note that I am a huge fan of Tandem and do not regret my t:slim X2 purchase. I just regret that I am one of the unfortunate souls who has occlusion alarms and struggles to succeed with this pump.

Diabetes, Arthritis, and Lifestyle:

I have previously mentioned that I am giving up extreme hikes of 12+ miles in the mountains to preserve the remaining cartilage in my painful arthritic feet. I don’t want to have foot surgery especially as I am finding that my August hand surgery solved some of my problems but not all of my problems. I have no confidence that foot surgery will turn me into a 25 year old athlete again….

I am finding new activities and am attending fitness classes three times a week. Plus I ride my bike to everything in my community and never use my car or golf cart. So far I have been keeping in touch with my hiking friends and right now for me the social connection is far more important than the athletic connection.

Kinda Broken:

A lot of things in my life kinda work but are kinda broken. This is definitely a #1stWorldProblem section. 

The remote for our main TV does not turn on the tuner or cable box and we must do that manually. If you forget, button pushing randomly turns on some devices and turns off others. When the TV dies, it will require an expensive redo. Until then, we just figure it out and make it work.

My husband broke the battery compartment door of my golf laser gun. To get my distance on the golf course, I push up on the bottom of the gun, push the button, and hope to get the distance. Yeah, it works but is annoying and one more challenge for my arthritic hands. But I don’t play a huge amount of golf and don’t want to invest in a new laser gun. When this one works. Sorta.

The screen lock button on my iPad is stuck. I should get it fixed but right now I added an Accessibility Feature button that allows me to turn off the screen with a few clicks. Annoying but a cheap fix.

The garage door manual close button doesn’t work due to a lightening strike last year. So I have to enter the code which works fine but is an extra kinda-broke step. 

My August hand surgery fixed one of the bad joints in my left hand. But it didn’t fix the joint that hurts when I play golf. And the bad elbow wasn’t even addressed. So a hand brace and an elbow strap make golf possible.

Totally Broken but Fixed:

When I flew into Arizona in late December and picked up my husband’s car at the airport lot, the car screamed brake failure and stranded me in a rocky industrial lot north of the airport. AAA, a loaner car, and an eventual warranty repair got me home in a few hours and the car back in our garage a few days later. Thanks heavens that the brakes failed before I got to the highway.

We have dealt with a quirky HP printer for several years where it always needs to have its network settings re-entered weekly just to print a crossword puzzle. Finally it got an unfixable error message and we now have a new Epson printer that promises to be more reliable. I hope. New printer=$90. Ink for new printer=$70. Argh!

Still Broken:

Yeah. My pancreas is still broken. But what’s new???

Abby the Black Lab is doing okay but is in pain due to arthritis and other health issues. She started laser treatments today and the prognosis is good for easing her symptoms. She is still happy and eats and drinks well. And she looks super cool in the doggie sunglasses required during her laser treatments. But she is an old dog and age is not fixable….

*******

Happy New Year to all of my readers and may 2019 be a good year for you and your family.

A Tandem Vacation

Is it back to the future or forward to the past? 

I’m not quite sure.

What I do know is that this month is my two-year anniversary using a Tandem insulin pump and I just went back to using my Animas Vibe. I am hoping that an older, simpler pump will ease my navigation through the current dark clouds of my Type 1 diabetes. I wrote a blogpost in late November about my diabetes life as a country music ballad and things haven’t changed much. My elderly dog is recovering well from pneumonia but struggling to move around due to arthritis and an injured foot. The cold and cloudiness of late fall continue to trap me in gloom and icy streets prevent neighborhood walks. I have been in an extended funk where my diabetes doesn’t follow the expectations of “If I do A, then B will happen.” A lot of time I do A and seemingly nothing happens. Is it the pump? Is it the insulin? Is it my behavior? Is it one of Diatribe’s 42 factors that can impact blood sugar? I am burdened by diabetes technology that doesn’t give me sufficient control over intrusive beeps and sirens.

Many of you know that when I get frustrated with my D-Life, I try new tools with the conviction that there is a solution to BG frustrations. I have added Lantus as an adjunct to pump therapy with the Untethered Regimen. I have adopted low carb diets and reset my life with a month of Whole 30. I have changed types of insulin and models of infusion sets. Wil DuBois of Diabetes Mine wrote an article this week titled “To Pump or Not to Pump with Diabetes?” and shared his feelings about the benefits of changing up your D-regimen: 

“I find that any time I change from one tool to another, I do better. If I changed every two months, I’d probably stay in control. I think it’s because change makes you focus. That, or diabetes is an intelligent alien parasite that can be caught off-guard only for a short time.”

But back to the subject of this post. I am using my Animas Vibe in place of my Tandem t:slim X2. I have always relied on the Vibe as a backup pump so it is not a bad idea to road test it after two years in the closet. I figured that I would quickly miss the X2 but have instead discovered that I really like this old pump.

I was concerned that going back to scrolling for carb and BG numbers would be horrible but in many ways it is easier than using a touchscreen and navigating through multiple “Are you sure?” screens. I really appreciate the immediate bolus delivery of the Vibe. With Animas, I program the bolus, it whirrs, and delivers insulin before I can get the pump back in my pocket. With Tandem, I program the bolus, it delays for a while, micro-boluses, and eventually finishes with a confirmatory vibrate a minute or two or three later. The Animas clip is a delight with its easy attachment and actually holds the pump securely on my waistband. Temporary basals are simple to enter and a temp basal of zero does not result in an annoying warning alert several minutes later. The Combo Bolus function remembers my last setting rather than requiring a recreation of the split and duration each time. My arthritic hands are having an easier time with the Vibe buttons than with the increasingly stiff T-button on my X2.

There are lots of wonderful things about Tandem pumps but I have been one of the unlucky people who gets occlusion alarms. Most users don’t get them. The vast majority of the alarms are false. I just hit “Resume Insulin” and go on my way. Lately I have had a couple of alarms that actually required replacement of the infusion set and/or cartridge. I have done extensive troubleshooting with Tandem over the years and am on my 4th pump. Only one of those pumps did not give me occlusion alarms and it unfortunately had a defective T-button. I never had occlusions in 12 years of pumping with Medtronic and Animas.

I am tired of troubleshooting. I sometimes experience one or two occlusion alarms a week and then go a while without them. But after two years of alarms, I think about occlusions almost every time I bolus. I average 8-9 boluses per day and that is a lot of thinking about occlusions. I am tired of holding the pump with the tubing extended post-bolus to prevent occlusions. I am tired of feeling guilty for stubbornly refusing to use the Tandem case and for not changing my cartridge every 3 days. I have a low TDD of insulin and an every 3-day cartridge change results in wasting as much insulin as I use. I do replace my infusion set every 2 days.

Longterm I know that I will eventually be back to Tandem. I am probably just being a pouty and whiny problem child. Despite fewer alarms and intrusions into my life, the Vibe has not cured my diabetes but I am doing better. I am committed to Dexcom and thus don’t envision switching back to Medtronic. I am super excited about getting access to the Dexcom G6 and Basal IQ; as someone on Medicare, that should happen in the spring. Hopefully the benefits of Basal IQ and eventually Control IQ will outweigh the insulin delivery problems. An Animas pump is not a longterm option. Johnson & Johnson abandoned the pump market and there is no customer support for my out-of-warranty Vibe. If it quits working or the case breaks, I am done. Fortunately I have a lot of supplies and was recently given enough reservoirs to last for several years. I can use Tandem infusion sets by substituting the t:lock tubing with luer lock tubing.

I think highly of Tandem and have always had good customer service. Until starting to use the t:slim X2, I was never a problem child with diabetes tech and continue to believe that there is something wrong with an insulin pump that frequently quits delivering insulin. Is it the design of the pump? Is it my low insulin use? Is it random bad luck? Am I at fault? I don’t know and am at a point as Gone with the Wind’s Rhett Butler would say: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Diabetes Country Ballad: One of THOSE Posts

Diabetes Awareness Month is not over so I guess I am allowed to  post a blood and gore photo. The bleeding on my belly was much worse than the tissue shows, so just envision 10x the blood of the photo. Oh let’s just be outrageous and imagine 100x the blood! It is still November and I can b*tch about diabetes and the frustrations of dealing with my D-tech. I can be strong on the outside and be sad inside. It is my 42nd November with diabetes and I can do whatever I darn well please.

Today was a weird day and it ended up being a perfect 12-hour basal test. 

My dog Abby had surgery two months ago for a condition called “larangeal paralysis” for which the poster child is elderly Labrador retrievers. The biggest risk of this surgery is aspiration pneumonia. I knew that Abby was sick yesterday and early this morning her lethargy and 103.3 temperature sent us to the emergency vet. She is currently in doggie intensive care inside an oxygen tent with an IV for fluids and antibiotics. We have chosen to treat this episode of pneumonia knowing that we won’t treat again. 

But I didn’t get breakfast.

Then I had previously promised to take care of the grandchildren today. I’m not quite sure why the older ones didn’t have school, but they didn’t. I could have canceled, but since Abby was in the dog hospital, I picked up the kids and we came to my house for Christmas crafts, game time, and doing our best to keep 18-month year old Natalie off of the stairs. I fed the kids lunch but didn’t get around to eating myself.

No lunch.

I drove the kids home mid-afternoon and then stopped at Costco on the way home. I got home at about 5:00 and my BG was at close to 100 after starting the day at 80-ish. Over the next 2 hours, nothing much happened. So a perfect basal test. A 20-point rise over 12 hours is testament to great basal rates and I was kinda feelin’ okay about that.

But then.

I bolused 32g carbs for the Whole 30 stuffed pepper I was having for dinner. The hubby hates dinners like this but he is out of town. 

Bolus. Tandem pump alarms for an occlusion alarm. Ugh! My TruSteel site was a little sore this afternoon so I changed out the site but not the tubing or cartridge. Tried the bolus again. Nope! Another occlusion alarm. 

Although I am a Tandem “doesn’t follow the rules” girl, I changed out both the cartridge and the infusion set. I tried to pull the 100+ units of insulin from the previous cartridge but it was mostly bubbles and I just tossed it. When I pulled out the TruSteel set, I got gobs of blood. My bathroom countertop shows the riffraff of my diabetes debris.

New infusion set, new cartridge, and new insulin. I bolused again for the stuffed pepper. 

Last time I looked at my CGM, it was 139 with a slanted arrow up. 

Remember my BG was about 100 at 6:23pm. 

So my daytime basals are good as my BG only rose 20 points over 12 hours. But my diabetes tech failed me: both the infusion site and the finicky occlusion alarms of my Tandem pump. I have double-bolused for dinner and my BG is still rising. Well, actually I tripled or quadrupled bolused but the pump alarmed on the first attempts.

It is now after 8:00pm and my BG is still rising. I am hungry for dinner but won’t eat until I am convinced that my infusion site, pump, and insulin are functioning properly.

It is now 9:00pm and the numbers are not going down.

Sometimes the hardest part of diabetes is that when you do it right, it does you wrong. 

A country music ballad of…

Betrayal, Frustration, and Sadness.

********

Tuesday morning note: Abby is home and doing well.

Lots of I Don’t Know’s

Okay. Let’s talk about Basic Medicare** and the Dexcom G6. Then let’s talk about Basic Medicare** and Tandem Basal IQ. And then let’s just admit that we don’t know the answers to our questions and that we’re not going to get answers in the next 5 minutes.

Who, what, when, where, why? 

Yeah, I don’t have a clue.

As someone on Medicare I’ve felt left out in some of my Facebook groups recently. In the Dexcom D5/G6 Users group and the DEXCOM G6 group, the vast majority of topics are about the G6. Do you like it? What is great? What is terrible? Adhesives, accuracy, and sensor longevity. Insurance and supply issues. The Tandem tSlim Pump group is all about Basal IQ with the majority of users stating that it is fabulous. There are questions about how it works and at what point basal insulin is suspended and then resumed. Stories about climbing Mt. Everest and others wondering about how to coordinate the prescription from their doctor, the training, and the software download. I don’t fit in anymore and I have no advice to give. In fact I am a little bored in these groups and mostly not checking in.

You see—I’m on Medicare. I don’t have the Dexcom G6 and my Tandem X2 t:slim pump is not updated to Basal IQ. I am not whining. Okay, maybe I am–just a little. But mostly I am just stating facts.

After weeks of rumors, it was officially announced on October 16 that Medicare will begin covering the Dexcom G6 for Medicare recipients. The nitty-gritty has not been worked out but it is estimated that April 2019 is a reasonable target date.

For those of us who have been involved in advocacy for CGM coverage by Medicare for years and who have been joyously receiving coverage since the second half of 2017, this announcement is welcomed but generates more questions than answers. I think that the more you know, the more questions you have. Addressing customers on the Dexcom G5, the news release states:

“Once G6 is available, Dexcom will be reaching out to current Medicare G5 customers when their transmitter is eligible to be replaced. Dexcom will also discuss the G6 and the Medicare beneficiary’s eligibility during routine monthly contact.”

That sounds very straight forward but I worry that it is not. The elephant in the room for those of us on G5 is The Receiver. In January 2017 after the initial approval of the Dexcom G5 by Medicare, I wrote a post titled “Medicare and CGM Coverage: Love Your Receiver!” and explained how Medicare justified the approval of the G5 as Durable Medical Equipment (DME) because the receiver had an estimated 3-year life. Therefore for those of us on Medicare, the G5 receiver has a 3-year warranty. Although we are now allowed to use our smart devices to read our G5 data, Medicare regulations still state that the smartphone is used “in conjunction with” the receiver. And FDA approval of both the Dexcom G5 and G6 requires a receiver to be provided as part of the initial bundle.

I have an old-style Dexcom G5 receiver that cannot be updated to G6 in contrast with the newer touchscreen G5 receiver that can be updated remotely to G6. Medicare through stupid regulations that I don’t understand does not allow Medicare recipients to participate in manufacturer upgrade programs. Thus Dexcom cannot give me the option of paying $100 or $25 or whatever to exchange my dated receiver for a touchscreen G5 or G6 receiver. 

Technically my G5 receiver is warrantied for 3 years and I can’t upgrade it. Am I going to be able to switch to the Dexcom G6? Interestingly, the Dexcom press release only addresses the transmitter and makes no mention of the receiver. Without knowing the details of Dexcom/Medicare negotiations, I have no way of knowing my status. Is everyone forgetting the FDA requirement of the G6 receiver? Is Dexcom going to provide G6 receivers to current G5 users at no charge? Will I get a G6 transmitter and sensors without a receiver? IMO there is no way in h*ll that Medicare will pay for another receiver. Because the Medicare/Dexcom relationship is on a subscription basis, will all of the previous rules about upgrades be thrown to the wind?

As I said above, the estimate is that Dexcom G6 products will be provided to Medicare recipients starting in April of 2019. I have neither seen nor heard of specifics regarding this rollout. There are lots of discussions and rumors floating around Facebook but no one really knows. I have been on Medicare long enough to live by the mantra: “When I know, I’ll know. Until then, I won’t.”

If I were not using a Tandem X2 pump, I would not care much about using Dexcom G6. I look forward to an easier insertion and no required calibrations with the G6, but neither is a huge deal for me. But I really look forward to updating my Tandem X2 pump to Basal IQ which automatically shuts off basal with predicted lows. And then the future Control IQ which will function as an early generation artificial pancreas. 

But if things are in the dark with Dexcom and Medicare, they are really in the dark with Tandem and Medicare. The last communication I had from Tandem regarding the use of my pump as a receiver for my Dexcom CGM was in November 2017. The webmail stated:

“Dear Customer: As someone who, according to our records, has a t:slim X2™ Pump and also has Medicare for health insurance benefits, you may be aware that Medicare coverage of continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) is limited to viewing CGM data only on a Dexcom receiver and NOT a smart phone or an insulin pump.”

Since then I have heard nothing.

Frankly I think that the current Tandem policy regarding Medicare is: “Live and let live.” Some people are being told by their Tandem reps that it is okay to use their pump with Dexcom. But I do not think that is true because there has been no official announcement allowing the pump as a Dexcom receiver. At the same time there is no enforcement of the policy and Tandem is not sending reminder emails about Medicare. Although one part of me thinks that it is poor customer policy that Tandem is not communicating with Medicare recipients, the other part is okay with just ignoring the problem.

Unfortunately the problem of Tandem and Medicare will come to a head when the Dexcom G6 is distributed to Medicare users. Will we be allowed to download the Basal IQ software update (which requires G6) to our X2 pumps? Tandem has said nothing and unfortunately IMO it would be a total violation of current Medicare policies to allow the update.

Once again we don’t know the answers.

No answers to who, what, when, where, why.

Just a reminder to be patient and go with the flow…

Of no information…

and…

Fingers crossed for the ability of those on Medicare to benefit from the latest and greatest in diabetes technology.

Until then, just remember the Medicare mantra:

“When I know, I’ll know. Until then, I won’t.”

*******

** Please note that although Medicare Advantage plans must cover everything covered by Basic Medicare, they may have more flexible policies than Basic Medicare and provide more benefits. Currently some of these plans are already covering the Dexcom G6, but most are in line with Basic Medicare.

Thank-you Tandem: A Replacement Pump

I recently wrote two blogposts (here and here) about false occlusion alarms on my Tandem t:slim X2 pump. I was not shy about sharing my frustrations and I want to update my story with the fingers-crossed!!! resolution of my problem.

I have always had good customer service from Tandem. Despite the long wait times on hold reported by some people on Facebook, I have never had to wait more than a couple of minutes. I have never yelled, cried, or been rude to Tandem tech reps, but lately I have worried that they might start to label me as a “customer from h*ll” as I repeatedly called to report more occlusion alarms.

The problem with false occlusion alarms is that when the pump is not shrieking about the stoppage of insulin, it works fine. Thus my pump passed all the tests that that Tandem support had me go through and in the end the in-house reps did not have the authority to authorize a replacement pump. The issue was referred to my local trainer. 

When my first X2 had weekly occlusion alarms for many months, I met with this trainer to review my technique on reservoir fills and infusion sets. We have a good relationship and when she heard that I had experienced 5 occlusion alarms in 9 days, she arranged for an immediate X2 replacement. The new pump arrived within 24 hours and I have been happily carrying the case-less pump in my pocket. So far there have been no occlusion alarms and I am cautiously optimistic that my problem is solved.

Although I am happy with the new pump, I don’t seem to be able to stay away from Velcro. Maybe it is an addiction…. Or maybe it is just the inability to accept diabetes tech when it doesn’t quite fit into my life. Soon I will be heading to South Carolina for a few days in the ocean and pool with grandkids and family. After that I am having hand surgery. Both occasions require a clip on the pump. 

The Tandem case with a clip would work for the surgery but not for the beach. I want a clip on my pump to attach it to the pants portion of my tankini swimsuit and the case would work for that. But when I am in the water, I want to use my Aquapac pump case (actually a Radio Microphone case) purchased many years ago as a waterproof case for my Medtronic pumps. It is an expensive and somewhat bulky solution that allows me to wear my pump strapped around my waist with guaranteed water protection. The Tandem case is too large to fit into the Aquapac. 

So I am back to a Nite ize Hip clip applied directly to my pump. Rather than using the two-sided tape that comes with the clips, I use Scotch Outdoor Mounting Tape because it is equally strong but much easier to remove. Unfortunately the Nite Ize clip is only marginally better than the Tandem clip when it comes to falling off my waistband and I applied Velcro hook pieces to both sides of the clip interior to provide some grip. People on Facebook have reported using heat shrink on the Tandem clip but I am not sure how that would work with the different design of the Nite Ize clip. And anyway, Velcro is what I know and Velcro is what I have in my junk drawer.

Today I have a new pump that seems to accept living in my pocket without a case. I have a Nite Ize clip applied directly to the pump which allows me to clip the pump to my swimsuit but is small enough to fit into various pockets and the Aquapac pump case. The clip is attached to my pump with a strong tape that is easy to remove when I decide to go clip-less or use the case instead. 

Pump. Clip. Velcro. No occlusions. That just about sums it up.