Living in the Orange:  When Diabetes is Tough

Diabetes is hard these days. I am usually a good problem solver and lately my usual fixes aren’t working. I am seeing patterns that differ from my normal ones. I am not sick. I am not on new medications. I am long past menopause and don’t think I’m dealing with raging or sagging hormones. Other things are sagging but that is a different story for a different day and a different audience.

I’m seeing large spikes after appropriately-bolused moderate-carb meals. My post-breakfast walks are not ameliorating morning blood glucose rises. I am giving ineffectual correction boluses all day long. My numbers climb on 6- to 10-mile hikes. The new pump profile “More” and its bucketfuls of insulin has not made a noticeable improvement.

I haven’t gained weight in recent months, but I do weigh almost 10 pounds more than 4 years ago. My doctors like that but my clothes don’t. My daily average steps are less than in previous years but arthritis and a recent bout with plantar fasciitis have dictated that I pay attention to sore joints. Abby the Black Lab will be 12 years old on Thursday and our walks are shorter than last year. And the year before. Some days we walk and I drop her off at home so I can go farther.

An old dog and an old lady.

But definitely some physical changes that might warrant more insulin.

I am frustrated with my diabetes technology.

Despite being a huge fan of my Dexcom G5, I go crazy with alarms claiming my BG is 48 and it is 98. With alarms that scream 189 when my meter says 140. With alerts that declare 240 and it is…240. And alarms that alert for BG’s of 52 and although I feel fine, my meter says 52. I accept, but hate the Medicare requirement that I use only my Dexcom receiver and not my iPhone, Apple Watch, and Tandem pump.

My pump was replaced a month ago due to a failing battery. Yes, I am still not on board with a rechargeable pump and yearn for the security of carrying extra pump batteries in my meter case. The new pump has an unresponsive T-button which means that every time I turn on or off my pump screen, I have to push the button once. Twice. Sometimes four or five times. The Quick Bolus feature rarely works because I get error messages of too many button presses or it just times out when the final push to deliver insulin doesn’t work. There is a possibility that I will be getting a replacement pump but unfortunately Tandem has changed the T-button to a “two-pronged design” and a new pump might not solve the problem. Facebook tells me that I am not alone in the woes of a stubborn, mushy, unresponsive T-button. I don’t know why Tandem changed the button design but I do know that whatever problem they solved created another. The T-button is the gateway to every interaction with my pump. When the T-button is problematic, my pump experience is problematic. 4 weeks of practice with the new button design has only marginally improved my success rate.

Five years ago when I was cruising in the “Doing Okay” zone of diabetes, I wrote a blogpost titled “It’s Not as Hard.” I concluded that “I think the reason I’m feeling good these days is that my hard work seems to be having good results.” By substituting a few words, I can describe my mindset these days. “I think the reason I’m feeling bad these days is that my hard work seems to be having bad results.”

As anyone with diabetes knows, it is hard to keep making good decisions when the numbers don’t reward the work. If a 12-carb cup of applesauce spikes me to 250, I might as well have Nutter Butters or Oreos. I have definitely fallen into this pattern and thus am not an innocent victim in my diabetes distress.

I know that I need a total reset in my diabetes life and things that have worked in the past include severe Dr. Bernstein-like carb restriction, the Whole 30 diet, and the untethered regimen. To be determined….

Part 2 of the Story

I wrote the earlier section of this blogpost on Friday morning and decided that since I do not entirely trust my pump and insulin absorption that I would choose the untethered regimen option. This plan entails taking a certain percentage of basal insulin by injection in combination with pump therapy. As of Friday evening I am taking 3 units of Lantus at both 7:00pm and 7:00am with the remaining 50% of basal coming from my pump. My blogpost “Building a Foundation with Lantus” gives a good description of the untethered regimen and provides links to other blogposts and articles on the subject.

How is it working? Amazingly well and on Saturday morning, I immediately began seeing some familiar flat lines between meals. The unexpected and unjustified spikes are gone. No doubt I am being careful about food choices but that didn’t make a significant difference in recent weeks. Once again I marvel at how much easier my diabetes is when I combine injections and pump therapy. Too bad it is so much more work.

I think a stable base from two daily Lantus injections protects me from absorption issues with my pump. I am taking slightly more basal than previously and maybe that’s the only difference. I am at a stage in life that I might consider going back to MDI (Tresiba-ready?) although I’m not psyched to abandon the convenience of bolusing with a pump. Ironically Basic Medicare with a Supplement plan makes pumping a much cheaper alternative than injections.

For the moment the arrow on my dia-bete-meter has moved from “Kind of Crappy” orange to a familiar place between “Okay-ish” yellow and “As Good As It Gets” light green. This zone isn’t perfection but it is an area where hard work and good decisions usually reward me with reasonable BG numbers. That’s all I can ask for and I am doing better today than a week ago and a month ago.

One small change in insulin delivery. One big improvement in BG numbers and emotional health.

When Diabetes Screams for Attention

Tonight I am in Phoenix.

No, that was last week.

Today I am in Minneapolis.

No, that was two months ago.

Tonight I am in Charleston. Well, kinda that but a few miles northeast. I am in South Carolina-my birth state.

I am here to care for my sister who just had back surgery. She is older than I am in real person years. She is younger than I am in Type 1 diabetes years

But she knows the drill.

Test your blood sugar.

Talk tough.

Take your insulin.

Eat lunch.

Say you’re fine.

Telephone your sister in the next room because you are….

Sweating.

Shaking.

Terrified.

Your BG is 36.

That wouldn’t be so bad except earlier today it was 45.

And yesterday it was 48.

And the day before 38.

And mixed in with those numbers were some 380’s.

The symptoms are bad and glucose tabs aren’t helping. Prune juice is good for old-lady bowels but not a quick solution for blood sugar levels.

Orange juice might work, but too many liquids can be counter-productive with lows. Says she who once projectile-vomited a second glass of juice over a friend.

So I grab my brother’s stash of honey and feed it to my sister teaspoon by teaspoon.

40 minutes later her BG recovers to an acceptable number in the 90’s. What would have happened if I hadn’t been there? Only D-parents and T1’s in “The Club” know the honey trick.

The visiting nurse came the next day and asked if we had called the doctor after the bad low. Huh? Why would we call the doctor?

Meanwhile the younger sister who uses a pump and a CGM goes crazy because the older sister won’t consider a pump. Won’t consider a CGM. Won’t even switch to Humalog from Regular.

Her way has worked for her. At least she thinks so. Quitting smoking and major surgery have exposed flaws in her care that need facing. At least I think so.

Meanwhile as I was slogging through my sister’s health stuff, my Type 1 screamed out for attention.

Look at me! Look at me!

My pump’s rechargeable battery failed with an overnight drop to 15% charge one night and 5% the next. Out of town and a holiday weekend to boot. Kudos to Tandem as a replacement pump was shipped from California and arrived in South Carolina within 24 hours.

My sister is headstrong and adverse to change. But she does fine in her world and will continue to do fine in her world. Ultimately she gets to make her own choices.

They are not my choices. But I have my diabetes and she has hers.

I am headstrong and have been known to be pushy and a PITA.

I was helpful for nine days.

Both my sister and I were glad to hug good-bye on Thursday and not try for day number ten….

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The Story: Two weeks ago my sister had major lower back surgery. Despite the number of times that she told the neurosurgeon and his medical team that she has Type 1 diabetes, the hospital orders specified a Type 2 regimen and she was not given long-acting insulin. Holy sh*t! This is a teaching hospital in 2018. I had offered to come for the surgery but my brother wanted me there for the recovery and promised to keep her alive in the hospital…. Thanks to a nurse advocate, he did.

My sister and I have always handled our diabetes differently and we’re both relatively healthy after my 41 years and her 37 years. My 2013 interview with her continues to be one of my most-read blogposts.

I accept that my sister will not use a pump or Dexcom CGM, both of which would be covered by Medicare at no out-of-pocket cost. The one thing I will continue to argue for is a Freestyle Libre. It is physically and emotionally less invasive than other CGM systems and possibly something she could live with. Although I appreciate the safety from middle-of the night Dexcom alarms, my sister doesn’t want that. I think that she would quickly appreciate the ability with the Libre to frequently scan her arm to see BG readings, 8-hour trends, and directional arrows. Had the Libre not required a physician prescription I would have purchased it, stuck in a sensor, and made her use it.

So Sister, I’m not giving up. Check it out!

A Libre is covered by Medicare under part D prescription benefits.

Freestyle Libre.

Amen.

Ordering a Medicare Dexcom G5:  What’s the Story?

Background:  In January 2017 it was announced that Medicare would begin covering the Dexcom G5 as a “therapeutic CGM” for patients with diabetes who met certain conditions. After months of delays where CMS, Dexcom, and Liberty Medical struggled to establish reliable procedures, we are now at a point where some Medicare beneficiaries are receiving Dexcom G5 bundles with payment by Medicare. I say “some” because Dexcom is totally overwhelmed by the demand estimated to be at least 20,000 patients. 

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If you are expecting this blogpost to be a “How To” manual, you will be sorely disappointed.

I am going to share my experience along with the stories of Medicare beneficiaries who have had an easy time getting their Dexcom Medicare bundle and those who have had or are having a horrible experience. I will provide some information that may be helpful, but I do not think that there is a magic formula for success. As I write this post, I do not know how to categorize my journey. I am 6 weeks into the process. I’ve made progress but I’m mostly mired in a black hole of no information with unanswered voicemails and emails.

Are there characteristics that separate the successful people from the chumps? Not from what I can tell although it is an absolute necessity that your doctor fill out forms correctly. Other than that, I think that placing a Dexcom G5 order under Medicare is a crapshoot. Some are lucky. Others are not.

I don’t have statistics on how many people are having an easy time getting their CGM versus those struggling mightily. People having a bad time are more likely to be online complaining and looking for help and I have seen a lot of negative stories.

Before I go too far I want to emphasize that I am a huge fan of Dexcom. After a few rocky years using Medtronic SofSensors, I switched to the Dexcom 7+ in 2011. The good results with that device were magnified with the release of the G4 in 2012 and my life was changed. The proof of success is I have not needed my husband to get me a glass of juice since 2012. I get lows but my Dexcom warns me in time to treat them myself.

The Good Stories

These are the people we want to be.

Joe:  “I contacted Dexcom about the Medicare G5 and was contacted by a representative who took care of everything and I received my Dex a week later! Sooo Easy!”

Ruta:  “My husband was using the Dexcom G5 CGM before going into Medicare. We directly ordered from Dexcom. The transition was flawless.”

Carol:  “I have to say at this point that I was feeling almost guilty about having my G5 kit and this wonderful new sensor. Other seniors were complaining on the Facebook group about all kinds of issues with ordering their G5.” (It took Carol 2-3 weeks from start to finish.)

Lloyd:  “I don’t remember exactly, but I think it was less than 2 weeks from phone call to arrival!”

Nolan:  “I got the phone call and email on 08/22/17. I filled out the AOB, etc. and sent them back, Dexcom sent data requests to my Endo. I was kept informed via phone calls and e-mails about processing steps. I got the official Dexcom e-mail with “Your Dexcom order has shipped” on 09/12/17. 8/22/17 to 9/12/17 is an excellent time frame in my view.”

The Grouchy Stories

Natalie:  “It took a long time — months — to get all the i’s and t’s dotted and crossed. If the doc misses checking off one box or not using the right word in their clinical report, your paperwork gets routed to GKW (God Knows Where) and it could be weeks before the doc is notified and Medicare can again begin to process it.”

Deb:  “Medicare’s rules make it far more complicated and time-consuming that it needs to be.”

Camille:  “Latest excuse: Medicare requires insurance company to purchase GCM through a Provider. Ins.Co.  cannot purchase it from Dexcom directly. My insurance (MHS Advantage) is particularly inept but my understanding is that they don’t have a contract with a provider so they’ll are working on that. (Bear in mind that they’ve had 11 months to do that.) Meanwhile, in the past year, I’ve had approximately 30 Lows (below 50). I live alone, I live in fear.”

Ginny:  “Medicare also asks for information that isn’t even on the forms. It took months!!”

Kathy:  “Back to square one. no supplies from Dexcom. a week of lame excuses.”

Another Kathy:  “I have been with Dexcom for 10 + years and they were always super good about returning messages. However since Medicare approved their G5 system, they are so far behind in responding that it has come to: if you hear from them at all you are lucky. I, too, am waiting for the email that was promised over a month ago and it never comes.”

Chris:  “Wow, just wow! I was willing to give Dexcom the benefit of the doubt, but not so much anymore. They have continuously dropped the ball. I’m usually fairly patient, but I’m beginning to feel like a crabby old lady.”

Helpful Advice

Carol:  “Not sure I have advice, except to hang in there.”

Patti:  “Stay on top of it. Ask for a contact person so you’re always talking to the same person. Call or email them every few days if it doesn’t seem like the process is moving.”

Sandy:  “Just know that my polite policy with customer service always gets more service than sass…”

Kathy: “So, just in case my information might help someone else, I will post what the tech support person told me today. He said that my chart notes should include: 1) the date of last visit, 2) type 1 or type 2 diabetes, 3) patient tests blood glucose 4 or more times per day, 4) patient uses insulin pump or multiple daily injections, 5) patient’s diabetes requires frequent adjustments of insulin.”

Bob:  “Managed care (Advantage) plans have a great deal of latitude in how they reimburse a claim. They are required by CMS to cover anything that would be covered by original Medicare. But they are not required to reimburse claims in the same manner as original Medicare.”

Other Information

Refills: Once you get in the system, supply refills are mostly a seamless process. IMO the Medicare requirement for monthly shipment of CGM supplies versus the quarterly shipment of pump supplies puts an undue burden on Dexcom and is slowing their ability to supply more Medicare beneficiaries.

My Personal Rant

It is unrealistic to think that Dexcom can immediately process the orders of everyone on Medicare who qualifies for a therapeutic Dexcom G5 system. At the same time Dexcom needs to communicate better with those of us who contact them. After my initial call it took several weeks for the assigned sales specialist to call me. After a first conversation with him and signing the AOB, I received an email: “We have a new update regarding your pending Dexcom order. We have recently requested new or additional documentation from your Physician’s office. We will notify you again once we have the approval.” That was great and I thought I was finally in the information pipeline.

That was 3 weeks ago and since then nothing. My account shows no open orders and my sales rep neither returns phone calls nor answers emails. My endocrinologist submitted my paperwork early in December. Calling my rep last week I was put on hold and hung up after an hour and ten minutes of piano music. I then called customer service who indicated that my endo’s paperwork has been received and they will follow through with my rep. I think that it is a realistic ask of Dexcom that once we initiate a Medicare order that we be able to see the status of the order online or at least receive regular updates.

My history is that of a “privileged” patient with Type 1 diabetes. I have had good insurance. My endocrinologist submits needed documents on time. Every pump and CGM that I have ordered has arrived within a week. Since 2011 I have had consistently good service from Dexcom. Even now everyone I talk to is friendly and helpful.

But now I am on Medicare and the process is slow. The biggest stress is not knowing what is going on. I need COMMUNICATION. I know that my order will eventually be filled and I trust that it will be before my stash of out-of-warranty supplies is exhausted. I alternate between being patient and as Chris said above, being “a crabby old lady.”

I don’t like to be crabby.

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To Order a Medicare Dexcom G5 in an Ideal World

Call Dexcom at 888-736-9967. Select Option #1 to place an order and then Option #1 again for Medicare. Another option is to submit your preliminary information online.

A Medicare representative will take your Medicare and other insurance information and you will be assigned to a Medicare Sales Specialist.

You will be contacted and required to sign a form:  Medicare Assignment Of Benefits, Authorization For Release of Information, and Acknowledgement of Rights and Responsibilities. This is a typical insurance form with the added provision that you promise to only use the Dexcom receiver and not use any smart device with your G5 system.

Your doctor will be sent the medical forms required by Medicare. He/she will complete them correctly and return them quickly.

You will receive a notice that your Dexcom G5 system is ready for shipment and a package will be on your front porch in a couple of days.

Voila!

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Thanks to everyone who shared their experiences.. I couldn’t include every quote, but your stories are important. We are making history—sometimes painfully—as we are the first to receive routine Medicare coverage for our continuous glucose monitors.

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Links

Latest Dexcom Medicare Update

Preliminary Dexcom Online Contact

Info Sheet for Providers

Dexcom Provider FAQ’s

Tandem t:slim X2:  Experiments with Clips and Cases

In early August I wrote a review of the newly-released Tandem t:case. My views of the case were mostly favorable but I wrote one sentence that was more significant than I knew at the time: “IMO the clip is slightly too short when wearing the pump vertically and is not as tight on my waistband as I would like.”

A month after the Dexcom G5 software update for my X2 pump, I revisited the case issue and wrote: “Wearing the pump on my waistband has brought back the problem that the clip on the new case is neither tight enough nor long enough to keep the pump secure in the vertical position. Over two days it fell off 5 or 6 times.” I followed that statement with one case hack that failed and one clip option that was successful. I promised to experiment more and share the results in a later post. So here we go.

Three Successful Hacks

Success #1:  Knowing that Velcro is my hack solution, I applied a square of Velcro (hook side) to the back of my pink t:case. In one week of use, the pump did not fall off once. There was a little tugging and scratching of the Velcro as I slid it onto my pants, but it was a solid and reliable solution. The pump mostly stayed vertical but was easy to rotate when I wanted to see the pump screen.

Success #2:  I considered that the scratchiness of the Velcro might cause damage to the front of my pants. (Actually I don’t care because I always have a shirt or sweater covering my waist, but you might.) So my next experiment was to attach Velcro to the inside curve of the clip which would only come in contact with the inside of my slacks. This amazingly worked great and once again the pump did not fall off during the weeklong experiment.

Success #3:  In my September post I mentioned that I was using the Nite Ize Hip Clip attached directly to my pump. I removed the clip in order to do the case experiments described in this post. (To remove the clip, I carefully used an X-Acto knife to cut through the adhesive and peeled off as much of the tape as possible. Then I used a tiny bit of adhesive remover to get the last bit.)

After all of my experiments, I decided that the t:case added unnecessary weight to my pump and I went back to the hip clip applied directly to the pump. As before I had a small piece of Velcro (hook side) on the inside of the clip. Although the pump has never fallen off with this solution, it did spin more than I liked. So I added another piece of Velcro—the loop side this time. Just so you know, the Velcro FAQ calls this side “the softer mate.” Almost pornographic, isn’t it?  This provides enough friction (Stop the pornography!!!) to stop most of the tilting but is still easy to turn when I want to look at the screen.

BTW if you decide to apply a clip to your pump, be careful not to cover the vent holes. To give credit where due, I learned about the Nite Ize Hip Clip several years ago from Kerri at Six Until Me and Sarah at Sugabetic.

The Failures

Failure #1:  In my September post, I indicated that I had tried attaching a piece of Velcro to the curved tip of the clip. The Velcro solved the pump-falling-off problem but unfortunately made it difficult to slide the pump onto my waistband. Ultimately I broke the case by trying to open the clip wide enough to pull onto my pants. A definite user error and because I was given this case for free, I did not try to get a warranty replacement.

Failure #2:  To repair the broken case, my next hack was to attach a Nite Ize Clip directly to the case. It was a previously-used clip and I purchased 3M Scotch Outdoor Mounting tape to attach it to the case. I used a piece of Velcro on the interior of the clip as described above in Success #3. The 3M tape is guaranteed to hold 15 pounds and the clip stayed attached to the case with no problems. The issue was that like the Tandem clip, this clip was not tight enough to keep the pump on my waistband. The Velcro pad was not successful in dealing with the combined weight of the pump and case.

Summary:

I am currently using a Nite Ize clip applied directly to my pump. Two pieces of Velcro keep it secure on my waistband. Before the Dexcom G5 integration, I was content with the pump in my pocket and I used a case which seemingly prevented false occlusion alarms. Now I am wearing the pump on my waistband most of the time because of the convenience of seeing my Dexcom G5 info when I bolus. I have not had any occlusion alarms and I will keep my fingers crossed that they don’t reappear.

If I had to pick my favorite pump clip ever, I would pick the Animas clip which attached directly to the pump and was super tight. Tandem pumps are designed differently and the Animas clip layout wouldn’t work. At the same time I would argue that Tandem could have designed a clip that would keep a t:cased pump secure on users’ waistbands. But they didn’t. So know that Velcro is your friend and don’t be afraid to experiment. If you find a great solution, please share.

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Please note that I have not damaged my pump, clips, or cases (except the one I broke!) with these hacks. I suspect that you won’t have damage either, but I can’t guarantee it. So hack at your own risk.

Talking Types with Lloyd Mann

I first met Lloyd Mann four or five years ago at a Saturday diabetes meet-up at a local Panera Bread. He was sitting at the end of the table with a big smile, an iPad, and a copy of his book about diabetes. He was discussing the possibility of being tested for MODY because of insulin signaling problems. A resident of South Dakota at that point, Lloyd was in Minnesota visiting family and had previously hooked up with this group through online friend Scott Johnson.

Fast forward a couple of years and Lloyd now lives in the town next to me. We have begun to supplement the every-couple-of-months group meetings with one-on-one lunches at the Panera Bread near his home. Yes, our relationship is built on Lloyd’s love of tomato soup and “Scott Johnson-esque” grilled cheese sandwiches along with endless cups of Diet Pepsi (definitely not Scott-inspired but Panera doesn’t carry Diet Coke).

Lloyd and I are close in age. In diabetes we are simultaneously far apart and eerily close. Lloyd has Type 2 diabetes and I have Type 1 diabetes. In most ways we are stereotypical depictions of our diabetes types. I was diagnosed with diabetes as a young adult in the mid-1970’s. I was hospitalized in an unquenchable-thirst skeletal state with high blood sugars and large ketones and have never had a day since then without injected insulin. Lloyd was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1994, took pills for many years, and then started insulin 11 years later. Lloyd’s insulin resistance is off the charts and on a daily basis he uses over 10 times as much insulin as I do. His story personifies the fact that Type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease.

So here you have two Medicare people with diabetes. Lloyd uses a Medtronic 723 pump and changes his 300-unit reservoir every day. When his warranty expires in January, he plans to move to a Tandem t:slim X2 pump and continue to change his cartridge every day. He likes the t:slim platform because unlike his Medtronic pump, it allows him to program a bolus larger than 25 units. I use a Tandem t:slim X2 pump. I change my cartridge once a week and rarely bolus more than 2 units at a time. Because Medicare CGM coverage does not exclude people with Type 2, Lloyd is in the process of obtaining a Dexcom G5 CGM. I use a Dexcom G5 CGM. Currently neither of us is using sensors provided by Medicare and we both wear an Apple Watch and carry iPhones. Lloyd and I are technology twins.

Lloyd and I are students of diabetes. Yeah, we are “Know-It-Alls.” You may like us. You may find us annoying. But we don’t care. We know our stuff and we want to learn more.

I recently asked Lloyd if I could interview him and we met at Panera two weeks ago. I did not record our talk so Lloyd’s answers are in my words with scattered quotations. I also throw in an occasional comment.

Lloyd, I know that your diagnosis story is in your book but please give me a short timeline. I was diagnosed with thyroid disease in 1980. Fourteen years later at age 44 I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. What was your reaction was to the diagnosis?  I just thought “Oh no, one more pill to take!” Do you have a family history of Type 2 diabetes?  Both of my sisters have Type 2 but neither of my parents did.

How long have you had diabetes?  23 years.

How long have you been on insulin?  12 years since 2005.

How long have you been on a pump?  Since 2005. Less than one year after starting insulin, I convinced my doctor to order me a pump. I had used Lantus followed by a mixed insulin and wasn’t having good results. I did my homework and presented my doctor with a list detailing why the Deltec Cozmo was the best fit for me. Rather than specify Type 1 or Type 2 in the letter of medical necessity, he just put “Insulin Dependent” and I was immediately approved for pump therapy.

You indicated that you will be purchasing a new insulin pump in January. What features are important to you as you make that decision?  I need a pump with multiple basal rates. I currently use 8 different rates and my highest hourly rate at 3:00AM is 5 times as high as my lowest rate. Because of high insulin requirements, I require a 300-unit or larger reservoir and the option of taking boluses bigger than 25 units. I also need to be able to set an insulin sensitivity factor of less than 1 unit per 10 points. (As someone with Type 1 who is very sensitive to insulin, I want to put multiple exclamation marks after each of those numbers!)

I am planning to order a Tandem t:slim X2 to replace my current Medtronic pump. Although the  t:flex has a larger reservoir, I prefer the upgrade features, Bluetooth, and CGM capabilities of the X2. I am used to changing my reservoir every day and will continue with that practice. I expect that my total daily dose of insulin will go down using the X2.

Tell me about your decision to order a Dexcom G5 CGM. How do you think it will help you? I plan to use the G5 to help reset basal rates. Although I use more insulin now, the basal patterns are the same as I figured out using the Abbott Navigator over 6 years ago. I rarely get lows (insert another exclamation mark here!) but need a CGM for highs. I have always been forgetful and that is increasing with age. My  insulin mistakes are almost all related to forgetting to bolus and the CGM will alarm when I forget and my BG soars. I’ve been working with Dexcom since earlier in the summer and I am “waiting as fast as I can” for the arrival of my G5.

So Lloyd, what do you think of the Medicare ban on smartphone use with our G5’s?  “You can’t print that.”

What year was your book published and why did you write it?  Successful Diabetes Management was published in 2011 and I wrote it because I was doing well managing my diabetes and wanted to help others. I chose the cover from Amazon’s stock photos and the image spoke to me as “Follow the Path” to good diabetes management.

I had also been one of the many people at Diabetes Daily who knew Richard Vaughn and goaded him to write his book published in 2010–Beating the Odds, 64 Years of Diabetes Health. After Richard’s book was published, he contacted me and said “Your turn, Lloyd”.

Lloyd continues his mission to help others with Type 2 diabetes and his Diabetes Daily forum sticky note titled Type 2 in a Nutshell has over 16,000 views. He was previously a moderator at Diabetes Daily.

As we consider Type 1 and Type 2, Lloyd, how do you think our diabetes lives are similar?  Our daily tasks are the same. We count carbs, we bolus, we deal with highs and lows, we test BG, we change pump sites. And most importantly, we live with fear of complications.

How are our diabetes lives different?  My lows are not nearly as debilitating as yours and my risk of DKA is about 1/20th of yours. I think that people with T1 can eat a bigger variety of foods than a T2 aiming for tight control because they process food more normally and insulin works better. (Like many people with Type 2, Lloyd’s weight issues are intensified by high insulin use.)

What is the hardest part of diabetes for you?  “It’s forever” and “knowing what to do and doing it are two different things.”

What are your thoughts on Type 1 versus Type 2 diabetes?  I think that the naming of Type 1 and Type 2 leaves a lot to be desired. Type 1 and Type 2 are based on how you got to where you are but they don’t always address where you are. Type 2’s need to restrict carbs more than Type 1’s and we also have a problem with our livers. Metformin addresses that and I am still taking it after 23 years of diabetes. I think that my diabetes is more predictable than yours.

As this stage of your diabetes career, do you identify more with people with Type 1 or those with Type 2?  My day-to-day life is like a Type 1. My medical team thinks that I have completely quit producing insulin and that is unusual for Type 2. I have more in common with T1’s than with T2’s on pills.

Conclusion:  I asked Lloyd if he had any questions for me and he wanted my opinions on hiking and exercising. We talked about lows and he indicated that he used to get lows on older Type 2 medications and when he used to walk a lot. But he has rarely gotten lows since moving to insulin 12 years ago. Sometimes I think that my Type 1 diabetes is most defined by 40 years of lows: while driving, while taking care of my children, while mowing the lawn, while wandering lost at the mall, while peering up at concerned policemen and paramedics. Even with improved CGM technology which now mostly protects me from severe lows, my treatment decisions are always influenced by the possibility of lows and I might argue that’s the biggest difference between Lloyd and me.

Do lows make me have the “bad” kind of diabetes compared to him? No, because lows mean that my insulin is working. I can’t imagine the frustration that Lloyd must feel when oral medications in addition to hundreds of units of insulin daily are required to tame his blood sugar. Metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance are powerful opponents and I kind of wonder if my life is easier.

When I look at the differences between the types of diabetes, I mostly end up in the “I don’t know” and “I don’t care” camp. I don’t want to fight about labels, blame, stigma, cost, and who’s got it worse. I just want and need the appropriate care for my diabetes and I think that Lloyd would say the same thing. Diagnose me correctly and treat me correctly. That’s not asking too much.

In summary, I would say that the most fitting end to this blogpost is that no matter how you look at it, Lloyd Mann and I are just friends who both happen to have diabetes. Types don’t matter.

Tandem t:slim X2 and Dexcom G5:  It takes Flexibility

Last Wednesday I received my email from Tandem with the upgrade code to add Dexcom G5 integration to my pump. A great feature of the t:slim X2 is the ability to perform software updates at home rather than need a hardware replacement every time new capabilities are added to the pump. This first X2 software update adds Dexcom G5 receiver functions to the pump in anticipation of future updates adding threshold suspend and other insulin dosing algorithms. Tandem has a catchy slogan for the X2: “The pump that gets updated, not outdated.”

My Upgrade Experience

I followed the instructions for the upgrade and for the most part, it went well. I had one glitch where an error code indicated that my pump was communicating with another device. I restarted the upgrade and everything went fine. I had not been using my Dexcom receiver and I was assured by other X2 users on Facebook that I could leave the G5 app running on my iPhone and Apple Watch. (Note: the Dexcom G5 transmitter can only communicate with one receiver and one smart device. You cannot use the X2 and the G5 receiver at the same time.)

For the first hour I received an unbroken every-5 minute tracing of my Dexcom readings. After that it went haywire and I got only 2 readings in the next hour. I continued to get multiple Out of Range alerts as the day went on.

When you use a tubed pump, your pump is never far away from your CGM transmitter. My Tandem pump was in a pocket. My Dexcom transmitter was on my arm. My iPhone was on the table, in a pocket, in the kitchen, in my purse and not missing a dot. The pump was struggling with 12 inches.

I called Tandem twice over the next couple of hours and with a little troubleshooting it was apparent that I shouldn’t be having such problems. As always, the Tandem reps were helpful and the second rep indicated that many similar problems had been solved by a new transmitter. My current transmitter has been in use for a month and seemingly fine, but I wasn’t going to argue with trying a new transmitter.

I received the new transmitter on Saturday and will begin using it with my next sensor.

Meanwhile I have begun to get better communication with my Dex sensor, but it is not because the pump is better at picking up the signal. It is because I am making changes. I initially kept my pump in my left front pocket with the sensor on my right arm. I am now wearing the pump clipped to my waistband on the right side. I still lose signal when I sit in my normal “easy chair” and my arm is against the back cushion. (My phone does not lose signal in this scenario.) But I am getting better at moving to the right side of the chair and keeping my arm on the armrest so that the transmitter is not obstructed. I prefer my pump in my pocket, but I can get used to the waistband.

Basically I am being flexible to make things work.

Pump Case

Somehow every change I make impacts something else. Wearing the pump on my waistband has brought back the problem that the clip on the new case is neither tight enough nor long enough to keep the pump secure in the vertical position. Over two days it fell off 5 or 6 times and was saved from hitting the floor only by yanking on my infusion set. Miraculously the infusion set never ripped off. I decided to do a hack of adding a piece of Velcro to the tip of the clip. Bad hack. The Velcro made it difficult to slide the pump onto my waistband. Ultimately I broke the clip off the case by trying to open it wide to pull onto my pants. Definitely user error and because I was given the case for free, I will eventually just order another one.

Second hack. I am back to using a Nite Ize Hip Clip that is attached directly to the pump. When I used this clip a few months back, it also tended to fall off my waistband but not as badly as the Tandem case. This time I put a small piece of Velcro on the pump side of the clip and it hasn’t fallen off once. Of course so far it is only a 3-day experiment.

I am not done yet with figuring out a case hack and think it will involve a Nite Ize clip attached to the Tandem case and a small piece of Velcro. Or maybe just Velcro attached to the case using the Tandem clip. Although the Hip Clip attached directly to the pump is working OK, I prefer the protection of a case. My false occlusion alarms were eliminated by using a case and I am hesitant to go without one. I’ll definitely write another blogpost once I decide on an ultimate fix.

Summary

I like having my G5 information on my pump and I will continue to be as flexible as possible to make it work. Although there is some frustration that my relationship with the X2 is a bit temperamental—first due to occlusion alarms and now to CGM reception—I am still very happy with the pump. In general if I go back and look at the  various pumps and CGMs that I have used since 2005, they have all required me to learn, change, and be flexible to ensure success.

Medicare?

Now I get to the nitty-gritty of this newest update. What are the Medicare repercussions??? I’m flexible, but I can’t say the same thing for Medicare.

I have discussed more than once the stupidity of the Medicare ban on smartphone use for Dexcom G5 users. I’m not going there today. However, I have been hoping that because the Tandem X2 is durable medical equipment (DME) and not a smartphone that I will be able to use it as my CGM receiver instead of the Dexcom receiver.

When I read the Noridian Medicare coding and coverage document released in March, I do not believe that the X2 violates the guidelines:

“Coverage of the CGM system supply allowance is limited to those therapeutic CGM systems where the beneficiary ONLY uses a receiver classified as DME to display glucose data.  If a beneficiary uses a non-DME device (smart phone, tablet, etc.) as the display device, either separately or in combination with a receiver classified as DME, the supply allowance is non-covered by Medicare.”

Unfortunately I have heard from several sources that Dexcom is instructing Medicare customers that current Medicare instructions mandate use of the Dexcom receiver. I suppose justification for that comes from the first sentence of the Noridian document: “The Dexcom G5® Mobile CGM System is currently the only FDA-approved device with a “non-adjunctive” indication.” Although my Tandem pump works with the G5 Mobile CGM System, it is technically not part of the system according to Medicare. Some Tandem pumpers have also been told by Tandem that the X2 is currently not approved by Medicare to be used as a Dexcom G5 receiver.

I continue to be optimistic that Medicare regulations regarding the Dexcom G5 will be changed to allow use of a smartphone and use of the Tandem X2. I have no predictions for a timetable for those changes. In the short run I am still using Dexcom supplies purchased before Medicare and continue to use my iPhone, Apple Watch, and Tandem X2 pump. In the long run I will follow Medicare regulations because CGM coverage is too valuable to risk losing that coverage.

As always with diabetes, I will be flexible.

 

Medicare and CGM Coverage: Swirling Emotions

If you’ve been following the saga of Medicare coverage for the Dexcom G5 CGM, you know that Medicare beneficiaries will be forced to use the Dexcom receiver while being absolutely forbidden from using smartphones and the G5 and Follow apps. Coding and Coverage information released by Noridian Medicare in March 2017 clearly states this Medicare policy:

“Coverage of the CGM system supply allowance is limited to those therapeutic CGM systems where the beneficiary ONLY uses a receiver classified as DME to display glucose data.  If a beneficiary uses a non-DME device (smart phone, tablet, etc.) as the display device, either separately or in combination with a receiver classified as DME, the supply allowance is non-covered by Medicare.”

Few people in the diabetes community think that this makes sense, but for now it is the rule. Most of us on Medicare are grateful for the thousands of dollars we will save annually by having our Dexcom G5’s reimbursed, but emotions are swirling. JOY for coverage. ANGER at the restrictions. ANTICIPATION that sensors will be shipped soon. DISGUST that seniors are being treated differently. FEAR that no longer can our caretakers track our numbers in real time. SADNESS that we are losing access to our phones and watches. TRUST that this policy will change.

Lately I have been waking up in the middle of the night and stewing about being forced to abandon my smartphone and Apple Watch as Dexcom receivers. I worry about whether I will be able to integrate my G5 into my t:slim X2 insulin pump once the the Tandem software is approved. In the light of day I try to sort through my feelings knowing that I shouldn’t lose sleep over this. Mostly I feel frustration because it is a stupid ruling that I have little recourse to challenge. There is sadness because I really like my having CGM number on my watch. There is the sense of loss taking away something that I once had. And not to be ignored is the spoiled-child syndrome that “I want what I want when I want it!” and it’s unfair that others have it and I can’t.

For the most part anger about this situation is not one of my emotions, but others are frustrated, furious, and ready to do battle. A couple of quotes from Facebook:

“This is a ridiculous and ageist policy and I have said it many times. It’s not right.”

“I find it abhorrent that Dexcom G5 is MEANT to be used with smart technology and ANYONE not on MEDICARE has this option.”

“There is no way I can sign that form. It’s aggressive and hostile and incredibly ageist.”

Another emotion I do not have is fear. I currently neither use the Share app nor need someone alerted to my highs and lows. But others are dependent on a caretaker monitoring their BG levels and their safety is jeopardized with the denial of cell phone use.  Some Medicare recipients have disabilities such as low vision that make the larger screens and adaptability features of smartphones a better choice than the small screen of a Dexcom receiver.

“My T1D husband has a traumatic brain injury. So it is invaluable to me, his 24/7 caregiver for 3 1/2 years to be able to use the share/follow app.”

“Share has saved my life a couple of times on the G4 when I was mowing grass and didn’t hear the Dexcom alarm, but I did hear my phone when my wife called.”

“I don’t feel my Lows and my guy gets the alarm on his phone….This is a *safety issue* in my opinion. If we were totally able to feel things and get through without the chance of conking out we wouldn’t even need the darn CGM.”

“I have retinopathy of prematurity and have always had bad vision. Seeing my Dexcom readings on the iPhone is much easier than on a small receiver.”

My Thoughts and Things to Remember:

When my reasonable brain takes control, I know that I will survive using my Dexcom receiver. That is all I had for the first seven years of my nine years using a CGM.

I don’t have medical reasons that my iPhone and Apple Watch are better than my receiver. In fact I prefer dismissing alerts on the receiver because I can just push the button and not even look at the number! BTW that is a bad thing…. On the phone, I need to scan my fingerprint, tap on the alert, and go to the Dex app to dismiss it. I will miss automatic syncing of my G5 numbers to Dexcom Clarity, Tidepool, mySugr, and other apps, but I will survive.

My blog was started in the spring of 2013 and quickly became known for advocacy for Medicare Coverage of CGM’s. If at any point we had been offered the possibility of CGM reimbursement contingent on no smartphone use, we would have jumped at the chance. What we’ve got now is not perfect but it is thousands of dollars per year better than nothing.

Right now I think a lot of my stress comes from just not knowing what is going on. Through the early months of working out the logistics of Medicare, Dexcom did not do a good job of communicating with seniors. Some people were getting email updates. Others of us called Dexcom numerous times to be put on “The List” and never received any information. Seniors are still being told different things by different representatives from Dexcom, DME suppliers, pump companies, and medical professionals. Fortunately there is now some information on the Dexcom website but it does not answer all of my questions. I will definitely have an easier time coping once I know the rules of the game along with hardware and software modifications.

For the most part I am resigned to the Medicare restrictions and am working to accept them. In the short run I think we need to get Medicare reimbursement established before fighting the smartphone ban. Others disagree with me and are making calls, writing letters, starting petitions, and even hiring lawyers. And that is good because although patience is sometimes the best strategy, other times anger and in-your-face advocacy are the only way to force change.

Right now I know that whatever the policy ends up being, I will adapt. I haven’t used a receiver in years, but I’ll get used to it again. I can’t live in fighting mode all of the time and right now need to find acceptance. Although I know that I will eventually take my place on the battlefield fighting Medicare CGM policies, at the moment I am choosing to let things take their course and trust that Dexcom and JDRF will get this changed. At the same time I am cheering on those actively opposing Medicare. One online friend sums up my views perfectly:

“A year or two ago we were all writing letters to our Congressmen to get on board with a bill to have Medicare pay for the Dexcom. Now that is is approved, I’ve decided to let go of any anger and resentment (never does a diabetic good anyway) and am thankful for the approval and the fact that I won’t be paying out of pocket anymore, despite the absurdity of Medicare’s restrictions. However, I will still work in any way I can to change those restrictions if possible.”

Another senior stated it even more succinctly:

“It is what it is. You want Dexcom through Medicare? You sign the form.”

Amen.

 

Note: This blogpost only addresses the smartphone ban for Medicare coverage of the Dexcom G5. There are other problematic policies such as only 2 test strips per day being provided to CGM users. Those issues are in the wait-and-see category and worthy of discussion another time.

My Review of the Tandem t:case

On the surface it seems that designing a case for an insulin pump should be an easy task. The new t:case for Tandem t:slim pumps demonstrates that it is actually more complicated than that and that it might be impossible to design one case that will make everyone happy.

Two weeks ago the news spread like wildfire around the Tandem community that we could finally order the long-awaited t:case. A limited selection of colors was offered at that time, but the full spectrum (Black, Blue, Olive Fatigue, Pink, Purple, and Turquoise) is now available on Amazon. Some colors are in stock with others back-ordered until August 5. The Tandem online store continues to show most colors as “Coming Soon” but keep checking. The introductory price of $19.95 is guaranteed until August 31 after which the price may increase to $24.95.

The previous t:clip case was available in fun mix-and-match colors. It looked great, but had major problems with a top heavy design and the tendency to fall off user waistbands. The clip was too bulky for pocket use although some women liked that it was easy to attach the pump to their bras. Frequent breakages and replacements were common. I personally hated this case. Some users liked the t:slider case and I used the removable part of that case in my pocket.

The t:slider case has not been available through the Tandem online store for many months and the remaining stock of t:clip cases shows availability only in Flash Green and Sunset Orange. Leatherette cases are still offered and include the t:flip, the t:holster, and the t:wallet.

One thing I like about Tandem is the importance of design. The t:slim is a sleek and modern pump and I don’t think that Tandem would be satisfied with a case that wasn’t equally attractive. I also think that after the track record of the flawed t:clip case that it was important to “get it right” this time.

So did they get it right?

Yes and no.

The Yes:

The case is made out of what seems to be a very strong plastic and there is no flimsy clip or hinge to break. I think that the case will be durable and provide excellent protection for my pump.

The cutouts make a lot of sense and allow the user to charge the pump and change cartridges without removing the case. (That is good because it is not easy to remove the pump from the case.) My photo below shows a view of the back of the case with the many cut-outs.

The removable clip allows the pump to be worn in a vertical or horizontal orientation. For those  who carry the pump in their pocket, the clip can easily be removed. However, it is so low profile that you won’t be bothered by just leaving it on. The clip is made of stainless steel and seems unlikely to break or bend.

The No:

In my opinion Tandem made a mistake in how the clip attaches for horizontal wear. Those who wear the pump horizontally usually do not want to remove the pump from their waistband to see the screen or program pump functions. Therefore it makes sense for the pump to be oriented upside down so that when it is lifted up it is right side up for the viewer. The t:case orients the pump so that it is upside down when the user lifts it up. This is a big problem for those who are using the t:slim G4 for their CGM data and for those X2 users who will soon be able to see their Dexcom G5 data. Another annoyance about this clip position is that the tubing comes out at the bottom of the pump which increases the opportunity for tubing to hang down below your clothes and to jump out at doorknobs.

The Meh:

The t:slim screen is turned on and off by pushing the silver T:button at the top of the pump. My guess is that I push that button 30 times a day. For unknown reasons Tandem added a plastic cover over this button on the t:case. Previous cases just have a cutout. Unfortunately I found that the button cover made it difficult to turn on my pump. Sometimes it worked the first time; other times I had to push the button 4-5 times. I have arthritis in my hands and am unwilling to tax my joints just to turn on my pump.

Fortunately this was a problem easily fixed. The photo below shows my X-ACTO knife solution.

I found the clip to be quite secure when wearing the pump horizontally, but as I explained above, lifting up the pump to an upside down view doesn’t work for me. IMO the clip is slightly too short when wearing the pump vertically and is not as tight on my waistband as I would like. But it is okay and I know to be careful.

Tasks like removing the pump from the case and changing the clip orientation are not straightforward and no instructions are provided with the case. Fortunately there are instructions available on the Tandem website but that link is not included with the case.

User Feedback on Facebook:

“After wearing my pump all day in the new case, I have to say, I really like this new style case…ALOT! “

“I love my new (pink) case so much I now also have a black one and a purple one on backorder lol”

“Okay, so I may be the odd person out, but I’m not feeling the new case. I don’t like the clip…”

Addressing the cover on the silver T:button — “I’ve found mine getting easier to press- although it’s possible that it’s just my hand getting stronger”

“I just received the new hard case they have designed. No more plastic clips!! Has a metal clip and you can change the cartridge without taking the pump out of the case. I love it!”

“Anyone else annoyed that the pump is upside down with the new t:case when you look at it?! Why didn’t they put the clip on the other side?!”

Addressing the clip placement for horizontal use — “My understanding is they took in feedback from a lot of pump users so either no one thought of that or there were technical limitations that prevent it or they ignored the user feedback.”

“I love it! It’s way more comfortable to wear, and it doesn’t dig in like the old style did. And best of all…it isn’t top heavy anymore!”

“I really still don’t like it. I can’t put it in the center of my bra, which is where I normally wear it, and it won’t stay on my waistband. Putting it in my pocket makes my pants slide down and/or the tubing hangs out.”

“Just got the new clip for the pump but it didn’t come with any information on how to put it on can anyone help me out with this??”

“How do you flip the metal clip on the new case?”

“It is great. I can use the clip on a pair of shorts or put it in the pocket of my trousers without removing the clip.”

“My new T:case came…. WHEEEEE!”

Summary:

I am happy with my t:case. It is compact, functional, and attractive. Although I think the clip design makes a horizontal orientation an unlikely wear for me, I am satisfied to use it vertically or in my pocket. I have previously written that my problem with false occlusion alarms on my X2 was solved by using a case. Whether it is a temperature issue or the cutout for the vent holes, the cases have completely eliminated my alarm problems.

I think that no one could create a case that would please everyone. We each have unique needs and opinions. The t:case is mostly a win for Tandem, but IMO the horizontal clip position is a big problem—especially for integrated CGM use. I know that Tandem had many customers test drive the case and I wonder why the horizontal wear issue was not fixed. Also, did they consider older and disabled users? If it were not for my X-ACTO knife, I would not be able to use this case because of the difficulty of using the T:button. And I am not really that old or very disabled….

Here is a short instructional video about the t:case. I am currently using a black case but also ordered a pink one. In terms of color, I think that the video depicts the color of the cases much better than the Amazon photos.

 

Please note that this post discusses the t:case for the t:slim, t:slim G4, and t:slim X2 pumps. The t:case 480 is for t:flex pumps and is available in black and purple. The t:case 480 only allows a vertical orientation because of the larger insulin cartridge.

Dexcom G5 and Medicare:  What’s Going On?

History

On January 12, 2017, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a ruling indicating that the Dexcom G5 CGM was a therapeutic medical device and eligible for reimbursement as Durable Medical Equipment (DME). I published a blogpost on 1/15/17 discussing this ruling and I urge you to read it as background for what has been going on (or not going on) in the last six months.

On 6/1/17 Mike Hoskins of Diabetes Mine published an article titled “Stuck Waiting for Medicare CGM Access” and this is good background for connecting the dots from January to June. Yours truly (Laddie Lindahl in Minnesota!!!) was one of the seniors highlighted in the article. Mike summed up the last six months pretty well by writing:

“but so far CMS has not proposed a national coverage policy. As a result, many PWDs on Medicare who previously had coverage or are trying to get CGM coverage are being told they can’t get the devices and supplies they need because “nothing is finalized yet.”

I found the end of the Diabetes Mine article to be quite alarming as Mike suggested:

“Insurance companies send out their contracts to medical supply distributors during the summer months, leading up to open enrollment periods that typically start in the Fall months. So right now is a critical time. Contracts are being crafted and finalized, and with all this Medicare CGM confusion, insurers and third-party distributors may very well simply leave out any language about Dexcom G5 coverage. Effectively, Medicare CGM’ers could face no coverage for their Dexcom supplies for 2018 because so much is up in the air right now.”

I transitioned to Medicare in April anI have been able to continue using my Dexcom CGM due to an extra G4 transmitter saved from my free upgrade to the G5 and from a couple of boxes of stockpiled sensors. Everything I am using is out of warranty, but it works. I am okay….but only for a while. This spring it was announced that Liberty Medical was going to be the authorized Medicare supplier for the Dexcom G5. They were quickly overwhelmed by the demand. (Who knew that it was so complicated?) I placed an order with Liberty and canceled it within a few days of shipping. It had become common knowledge that Liberty was not being reimbursed by Medicare and those of us placing orders might be responsible for the out-of-pocket cost. Meanwhile Liberty withdrew from supplying G5 supplies under Medicare as of 5/28/17.

Where are We Now?

I have had no reliable information source during the last weeks and months, but I have managed to piece together some news. Here is some info with the source and I’ll let you judge the reliability.

Dexcom: Some people on Facebook have mentioned email updates from Dexcom and I have called the company several times and was assured that I was on “The List.” I’ve never received an email. Yesterday I called Dexcom and learned a few new things.

1) Dexcom has set up a Medicare link in their phone menu. Call the Customer Service number at 888-738-3646. Select Option #1 for placing an order. Within that menu, select Option #1 for Medicare Help. Please note that Dexcom is experiencing high call volume about Medicare and I waited almost 10 minutes on hold.

2) If you are desperately out of supplies, call Dexcom and in some cases they are providing supplies.

3) I suggest that you call Dexcom to ensure that your account has the correct insurance information. On Tuesday mine was showing private insurance and Edgepark as my supplier. It has now been corrected to show Medicare as my primary and BCBS as my supplemental.

4) I was told on Tuesday that we each have a “Reorder Specialist” assigned to our account. I found out the name of my specialist and got his contact information. I was told that these specialists are sending out the informational emails and I had not received any because I was not “in his pipeline.”

Facebook: I am in a Facebook group called Seniors with sensors (CGM’s) where members share their experiences and opinions. Of course a lot of the info is “my endo told me” or “the Dexcom email said” or “the letter from Liberty said.”  We all know that the world will collapse into a black hole when Facebook is the source of all knowledge, but here are some things that I have learned:

“I heard from my endo this morning that Dexcom will be doing their own distribution for their Medicare CGM products. No third party like Liberty Medical (thank god.) The hang up at the moment is they are looking for a supplier for meters/strips which Medicare is requiring.” 6/21/17

“Dexcom also told me this week that they will be distributors.” 6/21/17

“I just got off the phone with a very nice Dex Customer Service Rep. Still many unanswered questions from Medicare but she says they expect to be alerting those on the waiting list by end of June” (The rep I spoke with yesterday was unwilling to give me any timetable.) 6/19/17

‘Did you get the email today from Dex with updated requirements from Medicare? They are ” working on it .” Still no way we can use phone / watch combo. I think that ageist and unfair.” 6/15/17

Diabetes Mine: In a 6/15/17 article about the ADA Scientific Sessions, Mike Hoskins and Amy Tenderich shared an update from Dexcom executives:

“If you’re wondering what’s going on with Medicare coverage of Dexcom CGM, here’s the rub: CMS has mandated that Dexcom ship out to Medicare patients “everything they would need” to use the product. Since calibrations with a fingerstick meter are required, that means Dexcom has to find a traditional meter company to partner with to actually ship meters and test strips in the package with their CGM. Kinda crazy, and definitely creating delays for the company and its customers!”

The Part We Hate!

It is becoming increasingly clear that unless things change, Medicare users of the Dexcom G5 will be forbidden from using their smartphones in any form. I understand and previously wrote about the importance of the receiver in allowing the G5 to be designated as DME. The idea that one cannot use a smartphone in conjunction with the receiver is absurd. The dollar value of Medicare reimbursement is significant enough that I can go back to using my receiver, but I hate the idea of abandoning my phone and especially the ability to see my Dexcom numbers on my Apple Watch.

For me it is an inconvenience. But how about those seniors who benefit from someone using the Follow app to monitor their BG trends. How about those seniors who use the accessibility features of their iPhone to access their BG numbers?

It is a stupid requirement. At the same time, my personal feeling is that we need to establish Medicare CGM coverage before we fight this battle. If you read the original CMS ruling, the only reason that the Dexcom G5 qualifies as DME is because of the receiver. If we don’t need the receiver, then unfortunately the G5 is no longer DME. So we need to be careful. That is my 2 cents!!!

What Others Are Saying?

When I began writing this blogpost, I asked my fellow seniors from the Seniors with sensors (CGM’s) Facebook group to share their thoughts. I learned a lot.

“Although it will be a inconvenience for most of us, which will hopefully be temporary, those using the Tandem X2 insulin pump or an Apple Watch series 2 should still be able to connect directly to the Dexcom G5 via Bluetooth by this fall with expected software upgrades from both Apple and Tandem”  —Larry

My T1D husband has a traumatic brain injury. So it is invaluable to me, his 24/7 caregiver for 3 1/2 years to be able to use the share/follow app. He had a severe car accident due to a low blood sugar which the initial 4 months of hospitalizations and rehabilitation cost almost 2 million dollars. If he would have just had a CGM it would have saved all that money, he would still be working and not on disability, and I would still be working. Every diabetic at diagnosis should get a CGM and certainly should not get them taken away at medicare age. He got his after coming out of rehab. We as caregivers near and far need to be able to assist our diabetic family and friends with the features Dexcom has like Share and Follow. —Barry and Kim.

As a type one diabetic who lives alone, it is mandatory to have a CGM that is 100% covered by Medicare. This is a lifesaver. As much as I would hate to be without either my Tandem pump or my Dexcom CGM, my Dexcom is crucial to my daily survival. I will be eligible for Medicare in September, 2017, and I am so very disappointed to find that I will have fewer benefits than I do with private insurance now.  —Cindy

Laddie, my biggest concern is with the exclusion of phones, and especially smart watches from Medicare’s program. In my opinion the use of a Smartwatch to manage Bg and treat T1D is a major advance in T1D care. It is a real time process. No phone need come out of a pocket, no receiver from same or elsewhere. Tap your watch,see your Bg, make treatment decisions in real time. I have been absolutely amazed by this one simple process and the impact it’s had on my life and T1D management. Somehow we must get Medicare to recognize this and allow the use of this technology for treatment. Either that or Dexcom has to build a receiver/watch.  —Dave

I am a Therapist. The watch being important to my work. It is not possible for me to check my blood sugar on a receiver or even a phone at this point during office visits. This restriction on app use is going to cause a problem for me .  —Deidre

Two Medicare people in my household. Repeatedly denied CGM coverage despite multiple appeals and documented Certificates of Medical Necessity the app by my PCP/Endo. Brittle Type 1 46 years with history of severe hypos with seizures and one incident of Nocturnal hypoglycemia leading to coma. One incident of severe DKA requiring 5 days in ICU.  —John

I haven’t experienced a coma yet, but that’s what happens when you have no cgms or no partner to watch over you.  —Dianna

I know, Dianna. Before my CGM I was almost afraid to go to sleep at night.  —Cindy

Signed up for the CGM in January. Now middle of June. Still waiting. Yesterday, another low where I crawled to kitchen for OJ. Made it again. Every time, I wonder when the time will come when I don’t make it.  —Camille

Summary

I think that Camille said it all:  “Yesterday, another low where I crawled to kitchen for OJ. Made it again. Every time, I wonder when the time will come when I don’t make it.”

Learning to Like Tidepool

In previous blogposts I have mentioned my frustration with finding a platform where I can download and view data from all of my diabetes devices. Diasend used to be my go-to site and would still work for me if I used my Dexcom G5 receiver. But I am a hipster-oldster who uses her iPhone and Apple Watch for CGM numbers. An email to Diasend followed by a phone call to Dexcom last week indicated that there are no plans to allow G5 Mobile integration into Diasend for US users. Dexcom Clarity is great for analyzing my CGM data but it doesn’t include pump or BG meter information. Tandem t:connect allows me to download my pump and Freestyle Lite meters but does not show CGM information. Maybe when the Dexcom G5 is integrated into the t:slim X2 later this year, the Tandem site will include all of my information. Although I love mySugr and the cute monsters, I don’t need a day-to-day logging app. Pretty quickly I get down to Tidepool as the only platform that is compatible with all of my devices.

My first experience with Tidepool was last fall when I participated in a research study through Glu. I downloaded my pump and meters weekly while my CGM synced to Tidepool through Apple Health. I was required to enter my food and carb counts through the Blip Notes app. The use of hashtags for notes initially bugged me but with practice it became quite easy. The Basics screen in the Blip dashboard was novel and my data was displayed in charts and domino dot patterns. I don’t recall spending much time reviewing the Daily View screen. In general I couldn’t envision how my endocrinologist would work with Tidepool because she requires printed reports. After the Glu study ended, I drifted away from Tidepool.

Fast forward 7-8 months and I am becoming a Tidepool fan. A couple of things happened to bring the website back to my attention. One, Chris Snider was hired as Community Manager and I assume that he is instrumental in the new informative emails showing up in my inbox. Two, it was announced that Tidepool users are now able to share their data with Type 1 diabetes researchers. You can learn more about the Tidepool Big Data Donation Project and how to participate at this link. Three, a recent email shared a clinician’s video featuring Diabetologist Dr. Anne Peters demonstrating how she uses and interprets Tidepool reports. I am always interested in what endocrinologists are seeing and thinking and her presentation helped me understand how I could gain insights into my diabetes using Tidepool.

I encourage you to take the opportunity to watch this video.

 

***** Interruption *****

Why do I download data?

I download data: 1) to take to every endocrinology appointment,  2) to review my numbers for a pat-on-the-head or a kick-in-the-butt, 3) to provide printed reports for Medicare which requires a 30-day log for pump supplies and a 60-day log for CGM supplies, 4) for various clinical studies and/or beta-testing apps, and 5) for curiosity to test new data platforms.

***** End of Interruption *****

Tidepool is a non-profit company and was founded in 2013 by Howard Look, a self-described nerd who has a daughter with Type 1 diabetes. Like many small diabetes tech companies it grew out of the #WeAreNotWaiting movement and is powered by geeks, D-parents, and PWD’s. As Look mentions at the end of the video, employees at Tidepool “have pancreas in the game.”

To get started with Tidepool, go to www.tidepool.org. Although you can check out the website in any browser, the Uploader is a Google App and you must use Chrome on either a Windows or Mac computer for downloading and viewing data. I have contacted Tidepool support several times by email and have always received prompt and courteous help.

Where do I go with Tidepool from here? I am pleased to be participating in the Big Data Donation Project and have recurring calendar reminders to download my pump and meters. My Dexcom G5 syncs to Tidepool continuously through Apple health. I also plan to periodically review my own D-numbers and graphs through the Blip dashboard. After 40+ years of Type 1, I am not good about day-to-day logging and probably won’t use the phone app very often, but you never know. I am currently a beta-tester for a new version of the app and maybe I’ll get hooked. Rather than reviewing my graphs and numbers on a computer, my endocrinologist uses print-outs that are eventually scanned into my medical record. In the Tidepool video above, Dr. Peters provides a glimpse of the future where diabetes data is viewed online and interactively with patients. It will be a long time before that future shows up at my doctor’s office.

In addition to exploring Tidepool.org and signing up for the Big Data Donation Project, you can learn more about the company through these links:

Diatribe (2014):  How the Tidepool Data Integration Platform Can Ease Diabetes Management: Our Interview with Tidepool CEO Howard Look

Six Until Me (2015):  #WeAreNotWaiting: The (Not So?) Brief Story of Tidepool

Diabetes Mine (2016):  Tidepool Goes Big After White House Visit

Diabetes Numbers Podcast Episode 23 (2017):  Tidepool’s Big Data Donation Project

In conclusion here are screenshots provided by Tidepool of the Blip Basics Home screen and a Daily data view. Note that the Daily view shows insulin, carbs, BG’s, and notes in the same timeline as CGM data.