One Month of Medicare with Type 1 Diabetes

I thought it was going well.

Some of it is great.

I’m learning that maybe not everything is going so great.

I haven’t screamed at a phone menu yet.

I officially started Medicare on April 1. I seem to have figured out how to pay my bills through auto payment. I have received a box of pump supplies and have an order in place for CGM supplies. I have received my insulin at no cost through Medicare Part B and had another prescription covered at no charge through Part D. I belong to a new health club through a program offered by my supplemental insurance. On the surface all of this looks great and some of it is. Unfortunately not everything is going smoothly and Medicare is not approving everything.

What’s Going Great:

Silver&Fit:  This fitness program is a benefit of my BCBS Supplemental policy. It provides a membership at a participating fitness facility, an instructor-led class, or access to Home Fitness kits. I joined a club five minutes from home that has a huge number of work-out machines, weights, a spa, nutrition and fitness programs, locker rooms, and free fitness classes. I have been attending numerous strength and cardio classes and having a great time. No charge at all. My only limitation is that I can only use the club I joined and not the other branches around Minneapolis. I literally walked in the door and was a member 10 minutes later.

Doctor Visits: In April I had two routine doctor appointments. It was easy to provide my Medicare information and as far as I can see, they are being covered with no issues. I feel bad seeing how low the Medicare reimbursement is for my doctors.

Not Perfect but On the Right Track:

Insulin for Pump: As I explained in a previous Medicare blogpost, insulin for an insulin pump is covered under Part B DME. With my supplemental plan coverage that means I get my insulin at no cost. I am not bound by formulary restrictions nor does my insulin require a copay or put me into the Part D donut hole. The new prescription from my endocrinologist contained the required information and I spoke to a pharmacy tech to remind them to file it with Part B. Very quickly I got an email that the prescription was ready; it had been charged to my Part D plan with a charge of $481 for 3 vials.

The next morning I went to Walgreens and fortunately the pharmacist on duty knew how to correct the problem. She told me that it would be referred to the central Walgreens Medicare department and it might take 2 days to set up. That afternoon I got a call from the Medicare department and was asked for information such as my pump brand, model, serial number, purchase date, and whether it was paid for by Medicare or private insurance. That all made sense and was easy to provide. She finished our conversation with two questions. How tall are you? What do you weigh? Huh??? She said that my insulin would be ready for pick-up in an hour and it was.

Pump Supplies: In March I contacted Tandem Diabetes to learn my Medicare supplier for pump supplies. I was told that according to my supplemental insurance, I should use CCS Medical and Tandem would set up the account for me. CCS has been great so far and has contacted me and my endo’s office several times to get the necessary information. One requirement was a C-Peptide test which I had never had before in my diabetes career. As expected, I passed or failed the test depending on your criteria. I failed because I produce minimal to no insulin. I passed because I qualify for a pump and supplies under Medicare.

My pump supplies arrived quickly and were exactly as ordered. Last evening I went into the Medicare site to check my claims and was stunned to see that my pump supplies were denied. I called Medicare this morning and got no good answers as to why. It was suggested that maybe I was using the wrong supplier and I was given the name of another supplier who doesn’t even provide supplies for insulin pumps. I called CCS and the rep indicated that they were already working with Medicare to get it straightened out. She said that it was very common for supplies to be denied on the first go-round for patients new to Medicare. She assured me that everything is OK and I am choosing to believe her.

A Total Mess:

All of us on Medicare were thrilled when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced in January 2017 that the Dexcom G5 was now covered as a therapeutic CGM under Medicare DME. Soon after that CMS released a document with preliminary coverage criteria and Liberty Medical was identified as the sole Medicare-approved supplier for the G5. Liberty was deluged with calls but managed to start shipping supplies to some customers. One caveat however. In order to receive supplies, you had to sign that you would be responsible for the cost of the supplies if you were not approved by Medicare. Meanwhile it was announced that more specific coverage criteria were still to be released and Medicare was not approving orders filled by Liberty.

Last week it became apparent that Liberty is not going to continue to supply G5 supplies for Medicare beneficiaries. All along Dexcom has indicated that it will not (cannot?) sell G5 supplies out-of-pocket to people covered by Medicare. Please note that the cash price from Liberty is much higher than the previous cash prices from Dexcom. Dexcom will sell G4 supplies to Medicare beneficiaries out-of-pocket. On Monday I received a letter from Liberty officially indicating that they are not going to provide Dexcom supplies after May 28. At this time there is no other supplier.

I placed an order at Liberty about a month ago. I was called last week to indicate that they had everything required to process my order and that it was under medical review. Today I canceled the order because I do not want to be stuck with the responsibility of getting an initial denial by Medicare, having to pay cash for the order, and then filing an appeal. I think I’ll wait to see what happens in coming weeks or months.

Dexcom has been quiet and provided little help to seniors. Today some people received a form letter from Dexcom indicating that they are working on the problem and stating: “If you have an immediate, critical need for Dexcom G5 Mobile CGM supplies, please contact Dexcom at 888-738-3646.” I did not receive the email.

So currently the Dexcom G5 is covered by Medicare, but not really. I am choosing to be patient and optimistic that everything will be worked out soon. Many other seniors on Facebook are angry and less optimistic.

Summary:

Some of my diabetes needs are being met through Medicare and other things are being worked out. So far I have had no problem reaching customer service reps at Medicare, CCS Medical, Walgreens, Dexcom and Liberty. Everyone has been polite and helpful to the best of their ability. Unfortunately no one at Dexcom or Liberty really seems to know what is going on and I believe them when they say the delay is with CMS. The Medicare Help Line was answered promptly but they could give me no reason for my supply denial and then nicely gave me inaccurate information. CCS Medical has been very responsive and so has Walgreens.

Right now I have everything that I need, but that won’t be true for the longterm. In the past I have often had problems when switching insurance plans and suppliers. I am hopeful that most of my Medicare problems are in the same category. I expect the pump supply problem to be resolved fairly quickly. I am less optimistic about CGM coverage.

So that’s today’s story about Medicare and Type 1 diabetes. Stay tuned for more. 😀

 

Medicare and CGM Coverage: Love Your Receiver!

Laddie_Head SquareI was surprised, thrilled, elated, stunned, relieved, and every other adjective that you can think of when I received Friday’s mass email from Derek App, JDRF President, with the breaking news:

CMS Labels Continuous Glucose Monitors as Durable Medical Equipment

JDRF is pleased to share that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) decided today to recognize continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) devices approved for use in making diabetes treatment decisions as durable medical equipment, a significant step toward making them eligible for coverage under Medicare. Today’s decision lays a pathway toward extension of Medicare coverage for the devices that will bring the nation’s largest insurer in line with the vast majority of the country’s private payers. Although the significant benefits of CGM use have been known since 2008, CMS had previously refused to consider covering the devices under Medicare, saying they did not meet the statutory definitions of durable medical equipment or any other category the agency could cover. Today’s decision removes that impediment.

In recent years I have wavered between optimism and pessimism as I advocated, hoped, and prayed for Medicare coverage of continuous glucose monitors. Now it looks as though the day is coming! I don’t know how long it will be before procedures are in place for receiving reimbursement, but it will be soon. Soon may mean later in 2017. Soon may mean 2018. But there is finally a path in sight for Medicare reimbursement of CGM’s.

Today I read through the 15-page CMS Ruling with a yellow highlighter. You will find some of the specifics of the report well-described in Mike Hoskins’ Diabetes Mine article:  NEWSFLASH: Medicare Will Cover Some CGMs Now! Below I will expound on a couple of Mike’s points and then talk more about the specifics of durable medical equipment.

Dexcom Only: This ruling only applies to the Dexcom G5 because it is the only CGM approved by the FDA for insulin dosing. Therefore the G5 is the only system that fits the definition of a “therapeutic CGM.” Currently CGM systems by Medtronic have not been approved for insulin dosing and are considered “non-therapeutic.” They do not fit the definition of Durable Medical Equipment (DME).

No Guarantee of Coverage: This ruling only states that therapeutic CGM systems fall within the scope of Medicare Part B DME. There has not yet been a national coverage determination to guarantee approval if one satisfies still-to-be-determined coverage criteria. Right now MAC’s (Medicare Administrative Contractors) have the option of issuing local CGM coverage determinations or coverage may be obtained on a claim-by-claim basis. What does this mean? We will learn as Medicare beneficiaries begin filing claims for CGM coverage. You can bet that I will apply for coverage as soon as possible after starting Medicare in April.

All Types of Diabetes: Just as people with all types of diabetes are able to receive coverage for home BG monitoring, all PWD will be eligible for CGMs according to this ruling. Don’t get too excited because IMO the coverage criteria will most likely restrict reimbursement to some people with Type 1 diabetes and some insulin-using Type 2’s. Just as it is more difficult for Type 2’s to obtain coverage for insulin pumps, it may be more difficult for them to obtain CGM coverage. But this is still an improvement over the 2015 congressional bills (S.804 and H.R.1427) that specified Type 1 diabetes.

One thing not addressed in Mike’s article is how the Dexcom G5 fits into the Medicare definition of Durable Medical Equipment (DME).

According to the CMS ruling, there are 5 criteria which must be established in order for a device to considered as DME:

  • Can withstand repeated use;
  • Effective with respect to items classified as DME after January 1, 2012, has an expected life of at least 3 years;
  • Is primarily and customarily used to serve a medical purpose;
  • Generally is not useful to a person in the absence of an illness or injury; and
  • Is appropriate for use in the home.

Home blood glucose meters and supplies have been in this category for a long time. Technically the meters are “durable” and have an expected life of at least 3 years. For “multicomponent” systems, the other components are covered as long as one component (the meter) is “durable.” Therefore test strips are covered because they are an integral part of the system.

Looking at the Dexcom G5 system, CMS quickly specifies that sensors with an expected life of 1 week are not durable. Neither are transmitters with an expected life of 3 months. So we are left with the receiver. According to CMS, “reliability analysis data from an engineering firm that evaluated the receiver component of the recently approved therapeutic CGM predicts a lifetime of greater than 3 years for the receiver.” CMS goes on to say that the receiver “is the only component of the therapeutic CGM that can be considered durable and satisfy the 3-year MLR criterion of the definition.”

What does this mean? It means Love Your Receiver!!! Without the receiver, the Dexcom G5 system does not satisfy the criteria for DME.

dexcom-love-your-receiver

The FDA approval of the G5 system required the purchase of a receiver and many people complain about that requirement since they use their phones as the receiver. Just know that CMS is never going to classify your phone as a reimbursable medical device, so cherish your receiver even if you never take it out of the box. If you’re not on Medicare, still cherish your receiver so that seniors can receive CGM coverage! Also Medicare coverage of CGM’s is important for everyone because it is a vital component to coverage of artificial pancreas systems.

In the coming weeks and months, we will learn more about the implementation and impact of this CMS ruling. If you’d like to learn more, here are a few links.

Text of CMS Ruling

Diabetes Mine Analysis  

Diatribe’s Preliminary Analysis

Expanded Statement from JDRF

And no matter what, don’t forget to Love Your Receiver!

 

Back to the Future:  Dexcom G4 Share and Apple Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Subtracting the Adjunct from Dexcom G5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dexcom Clarity Graphs

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

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

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

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

Choosing the Dexcom G5—Again

Laddie_Head SquareIn September I wrote a blogpost about the pros and cons of upgrading from the Dexcom G4 CGM to the Dexcom G5. Since my upgrade was free and I did not have to return the new and still-unused G4 transmitter, the decision to accept the G5 transmitters was a no-brainer.

Two weeks ago my transmitter warranty expired and I was once again faced with the G4/G5 decision. Most of the arguments from my September post are still valid, but probably my biggest concern was whether I liked the positives of the G5 enough to outweigh the increased cost of the transmitters. As most of you know, G4 transmitters are warrantied for 6 months but operate until they die—sometimes as long as a year after initial use. G5 transmitters are sold in pairs with each transmitter programmed to shut-off after 108-112 days (90 days + 18-22 days grace period).

Around the DOC I have seen many CGM users who have chosen to remain with the G4 for various reasons. Read Mike Hoskins’ post at Diabetes Mine for a good description of valid reasons for not changing. Recently on Facebook there have been discussions where some users are considering going back to the G4 as their G5 warranties expire. In most cases the motivation is financial although some users have been dissatisfied with the transmission range and signal reliability of the G5 system.

I have been using the Dexcom G5 since late February. Initially I was quite frustrated by the alert sound options on my iPhone and in typical fashion wrote a rant blogpost. At that point I was too new to the system to evaluate other pros and cons of the G5 platform.

Fast forward a few weeks and when once again faced with the G4/G5 decision, I chose without hesitation to remain with the G5 system. So what changed and why am I totally on board with the G5?

Dexcom G5 Choice

1. Although I never really minded carrying the Dex receiver, I quickly fell in love with not carrying it. I appreciate having one less thing in my pockets and one less expensive device to keep track of. I like how my BG numbers are displayed on the phone and how the G5 app allows me to key in calibration numbers rather than scrolling on the receiver wheel. I like the use of color in the app and the ability to see graphs in landscape mode. I appreciate the new iPhone “complication” that allows me to see my BG number without unlocking my phone.

2. When I use the receiver, I find the screen with the white background easy to read unlike the G4 screen with colored numbers and tracings on a black background. As someone who spends a lot of time hiking in bright sunlight, I found the G4 receiver impossible to read at those times when I needed it the most. (See “Sunlight and the Dex G4: A Bad Mix.”) I will admit that I dislike the glaring spotlight of the G5 screen when checking it in the middle of the night.

3. Although I am still not happy with the sound profiles on the iPhone, it is not bothering me very much. I am experimenting with using the receiver at night and my phone during the day. When I combine the musical Dexcom alerts with my Lantus reminder alarm in the evening, I feel like a digital music box.

4. Because I am a year away from Medicare and no CGM coverage, it is easy to argue that I should be hoarding transmitters and continuing with the extended life of the G4 transmitters. A great idea in theory, but it ignores the probable release of the Dexcom G6 in 2017 or early 2018. The G6 promises improved accuracy and reliability and I suspect it will quickly leave the G4 and G5 platforms in the dust. Because the G5 does not require a receiver, maybe it will be more economical than the G4. Or are you required by the FDA to purchase a new receiver every year?

Right now Medicare is a huge “unknown” in my life and I will soon be writing about my preparations and guesswork as I move closer to April 1, 2017. I hate the idea of hoarding supplies and technology that will become obsolete and possibly unused. But I am not optimistic about a change in Medicare CGM policy and am I crazy not to stock up on G4 transmitters?

5. I have not been bothered by things that could be considered flaws of the G5 system. I have experienced very few dropped data points. I have occasionally lost the signal on my phone, but that also happened periodically with my G4 receiver. The battery of my almost 3-year old iPhone 5 runs down more quickly due to the Dex G5, but not enough to be a real problem. I am still not satisfied with the lack of a robust vibrate alert on my phone, but I’m losing no sleep over it.

Summary:  As I am reminded whenever I write technology blogposts, I am indeed one of the “Diabetes Privileged.” I would of course prefer not to have diabetes and it is certainly not a “privilege” to live with this difficult-nagging-frustrating-serious-chronic health condition. But given that I do, I have many things in my favor. I am educated. I have good health insurance and am able to buy insulin and other required medications/supplies. I have a computer, an iPhone, and a connection to the Internet and the Diabetes Online Community. I have access to good food and a safe environment in which to walk and exercise. I am the beneficiary of the newest diabetes technologies and able to debate whether I want to live with the fabulous Dexcom G4 CGM or the newer and fabulous Dexcom G5 CGM.

And today I choose the Dexcom G5.

Dexcom G5: Alerts & Sounds?

Laddie_Head SquareIn September I wrote a blogpost “Considering the Dexcom G5 Upgrade” which continues to be one of my most-read posts ever. My upgrade was free and it was a non-brainer to accept the two G5 transmitters. Because the G4 transmitter that I began using last March was still working fine until now, I have only just begun using a G5 transmitter. I am due to order a new transmitter next week (definitely trying to stock up before I transition to Medicare!)and I am glad to get some experience with the G5 before deciding whether to order a G4 or G5 transmitter.

So far I hate the G5 or at least how it functions on my iPhone 5.*** Maybe one of you canDexcom Sound Menu give me some help. As far as I can tell, there is no way to set Dexcom alerts to vibrate without having my whole phone on Vibrate Only. I find it hard to believe that “Vibrate” isn’t one of the sound choices on the phone as it is on the Dex receiver. But if it’s there, I don’t see it. If I turn off sounds for the Dex app in the phone notification settings, then it doesn’t vibrate either and losing alerts negates the major reason for using a CGM.

I like having a ringtone for my phone and I especially like a ding when I receive texts. So I don’t really want my phone on Vibrate Only. I find the Dexcom alerts incredibly loud and they don’t seem to respond to the volume adjustment of my ringer. I don’t want my day interrupted with diabetes sound blasts and I think that my husband, dog, golfing partners, and hiking friends would agree.

So unless I am missing something, I have 3 choices.

  1. Embrace the loud Dexcom alerts.
  2. Keep my phone on Vibrate Only with the risk of missing calls, texts, and calendar alerts.
  3. Use the Dexcom receiver instead of my phone or addition to my phone with phone alerts disabled.

I am not willing to go with Option 1. Diabetes intrudes into almost every moment of my life and I don’t want it accompanied by beeping, dinging, and babies-crying alerts.

I suspect that I can get used to Option 2 and that is what I am using today.

If I am going to use Option 3 then I should definitely just stay with the Dexcom G4 for my next transmitter with the longer battery life and no drop-dead date. Plus, I thought that the purpose of the G5 was to eliminate the receiver and use my smartphone instead!

So am I crazy and missing something obvious? Or is this another instance of “improved” medical devices taking a step backwards?

***Actually I like the Dexcom app on the phone and the ease of reading data and entering calibrations. But the lack of a Vibrate option is a big issue for me.

Corrections – Updates – News

Laddie_Head SquareAfter the deaths of two children from Type 1 diabetes in July, I published a letter To My Daughters-in-Law. I shared the stories of Kycie and David and provided information about an advocacy group – Test One Drop. I was recently notified that I got part of the story wrong and that some of the information I provided is now out-of-date. I have revised the blogpost with the following information.

Correction:  From various postings on Facebook, I made the erroneous assumption that 4-year old David Brown lost his life as a result of a missed Type 1 diabetes diagnosis. That was not correct. When David was taken to the emergency room, he was immediately and correctly diagnosed with Type 1. Despite a proper diagnosis and intensive medical care, David died of multiple organ failure a few days later. David’s and Kycie’s stories are powerful reminders that despite improved treatments and technology in the 21st century, Type 1 diabetes continues to be a life-threatening condition.

Update:  Test One Drop has updated both its mission and educational poster. The updated mission is:

“to bring awareness to the general public and the medical community of the similarities between the symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) and common illnesses such as influenza, strep, and viral infections with the purpose of stopping delayed and misdiagnosed T1D which can lead to life-threatening DKA, t1d-educational-8-5x11_Newpermanent handicap, or death. Additionally, we are seeking a change in the Standard of Care Practices to require medical personnel to screen blood or urine samples for glucose levels before diagnosing sick patients with a common illness that might be masking or mimicking Type 1 Diabetes.”

Please check out the organization’s website and Facebook page. We in the diabetes community mourn the loss of children like Kycie and David. One purpose of Test One Drop is to keep the conversation going when the heartbreaking stories stop making headlines. Download the updated poster and share it with your friends, family, medical team, schools, and community.

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Update on my G5 Upgrade:  In September I wrote about some of the pros and cons of upgrading from my current Dexcom G4 CGM to the recently released G5. Shortly after I signed up for the upgrade, Dexcom ran low on G5 transmitters. Instead of receiving mine in early October, I am still waiting. According to my Dexcom account, the expected ship date is December 1. So the update is “Still waiting. No news.”

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Update on Medicare Coverage of CGMS:  Although not much has yet changed for CGM coverage by Medicare, some progress is being seen in the court system. Here is a link to a recent article at Medscape about Jill Whitcomb’s victory in Federal Court (Level 5 of the Medicare appeal process). I know of one person who won his Level 3 appeal based on the precedent of the Whitcomb case. Unfortunately Whitcomb is still at risk for further appeals by the insurance company.

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Update from the Unconference:  At the Diabetes UnConference in March, I met Daniele Hargenrader. Daniele has lived with Type 1 diabetes for 25 years and is a diabetes and health coach as well as a personal trainer and nutritionist. If you are seeking a way to dig your way out of the diabetes dumps or need a stocking stuffer for yourself or a loved one, you won’t go wrong with Daniele’s new book: Unleash Your Inner Diabetes Dominator. Check out the book as well as the Diabetes Dominator™ website with Daniele’s blog and links to her YouTube interview series. I will be reviewing this book in a future blogpost.DD Book Cover 2

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Last but Not Least News:  I have recently been invited to share some of my blogposts at Diabetes Daily – a well-known diabetes community with 2+ million visitors a year, almost 300K Facebook fans, and 70,000 newsletter subscribers. The posts will be published first on my blog and those with interest to the larger diabetes community will be syndicated at Diabetes Daily. This is a huge compliment for me and I thank all of you who have encouraged me on my blogging journey.

Considering the Dexcom G5 Upgrade

Laddie_Head SquareFor the first time in my diabetes tech history, I am in the golden upgrade zone. The FDA approval of the Dexcom G5™ Mobile CGM System was announced the same week that my G4 warranty expired. According to Dexcom’s upgrade program, I am entitled to a free upgrade to the G5 system if I purchased my G4 Platinum System with Share before the G5 begins shipping.

It was a no-brainer to order my new G4 system as soon as possible because I never want to run the risk of out-of-warranty equipment failing. Due to good insurance and the CGM rep at Edgepark (yes, I always have great service from Edgepark unlike so many others who report horror stories), my new CGM arrived within a week. At this point I began doing my homework about the upgrade options.

As I learned more about the G5 system, it quickly became apparent that it was not a slam-dunk decision to upgrade. I’ll discuss a few of my concerns below.

Pros of Upgrading

One Less Device:  I joke about diabetic pants and never buy clothes without pockets. I currently carry an insulin pump, glucose tabs, Fitbit, Dexcom receiver, occasionally car keys, and often my phone. The possibility of eliminating the Dex receiver is appealing.

Optional Receiver:  If I don’t like using my iPhone as my receiver, I can always use the G4 Share receiver updated with the G5 software.

Sunlight:  The G4 receiver with its black background is difficult to read in bright sunlight and the red color used for lows is almost invisible. My Animas Vibe pump is even worse and the text is totally unreadable in bright light. My phone has a better display and is easy to see in all light conditions. (Note: Now that I have the Share receiver, I have the option of using my phone without upgrading to the G5, but I would have to carry the receiver.) Because the G5 software upgrade will result in a new receiver display with a white background, maybe it will be easier to read in the sun than the current G4 device.

“Free” G4 transmitter:  Because my current G4 system is working, I have not had to Golden Upgradeopen the new G4 transmitter. I do not have to return this transmitter when I get the G5 transmitters and can keep it as a back-up to use with my current non-Share receiver. This is appealing as I get close to Medicare with no coverage for CGMS.

The Price is Right:  The upgrade is free!

Cons of Upgrading

Expiration of G5 transmitters:  My understanding is that the G5 transmitters will last 3 months and drop dead after 108 days (90 days plus an 18-day grace period). If you have good insurance coverage for CGMS, this is not a big deal. With no CGM coverage, the loss of an extended life for a transmitter can be a big deal.

Bigger Transmitter:  The G5 transmitter has built-in Bluetooth and is bigger than the current slim G4 receiver. It is about the size of the first generation G4 transmitter.

Not Compatible with Animas Vibe:  Although I rarely use my Vibe as a Dex receiver, I like having the option especially when I want a waterproof receiver at the pool or beach. Because Dex transmitters cannot be turned off, it’s expensive to use a G4 and G5 transmitter concurrently. I assume the lack of G5 compatibly will also extend to the new Tandem t:slim G4 combo.

Disadvantages of Phone Receiver:  My phone is much larger than the Dex receiver and doesn’t fit into many of my pockets. Although I use my phone a lot, I do not keep it with me day and night. I have no idea whether the sounds and vibrations of CGM alarms on the phone will be adequate. It will take more button pushes to access BG data on my phone compared to the one-button push of the Dex receiver.

Other Thoughts

Medicare:  I currently have excellent CGM coverage with private insurance. When I move to Medicare in April 2017, I will have to self-fund a CGM unless Medicare regulations change. My guess is that a G4 transmitter with the Animas Vibe or the Tandem t:slim G4 will be the least expensive option because no other receiver is required. As discussed in my April 2015 review of the Vibe, I am not a fan of the Dexcom integration into the Vibe. But it works and is an option. As far as I know, both pumps will continue to use the outdated G4 software instead of the 505 update.

It is possible that under Medicare the G5 will be an equally cost-effective device if I do not need to purchase a new receiver every year. The G5 was approved by the FDA with the requirement that a receiver be provided to new patients. Is that a one-time requirement or will G5 users be required to purchase a new receiver every year when the old one (maybe unused) goes out of warranty?

Staying Current:  New CGM devices are gaining FDA approval at a much faster pace than in the past. It is likely that both the G4 and G5 will be outdated in a few years and maybe my current decision is just not a big deal. With the Animas Vibe and t:slim G4 tied to the G4, my guess is that the original G4 transmitter will be available for many years to come. The G5 may be a short-lived device on the way to the G6 which promises improved accuracy and reliability along with mobile capabilities. Another consideration is what the new Dexcom/Google collaboration will bring to the table.

Decision Deadline:  The Dexcom website indicates that “Upgrade offers are available until 60 days after the first G5 Mobile shipment.” However, I learned that because I purchased my G4 Share system through a distributor (Edgepark), I have only 30 days from the date of shipment to upgrade. I am looking at an upgrade deadline of early October rather than late November. Good thing I asked!

My Decision

I have decided to upgrade and will be sent my G5 transmitters in October. At this point I will upgrade my Share receiver to the G5 software. For the most part I am choosing to abandon my Animas Vibe as a receiver and become more hip by never again being separated from my phone. Frankly I don’t know whether this is the right or wrong decision or if it even matters. Dexcom is making the change incredibly easy and I have just decided to go with the newest kid on the block. If nothing else, I am thankful for having the #firstworldproblem of choosing which CGM system to use. I promise to let you know how it goes.