Test strips are the foundation of good diabetes self-care. People with diabetes, particularly those who use insulin, need to test frequently to manage their blood glucose and make care adjustments, particularly with the insulin. As simple as it sounds test strips are vital to avoiding dangerous low blood sugars from insulin.
Insulin can be a dangerous drug. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that ninety-seven thousand of Americans a year go to the emergency room due to low blood sugars caused by insulin.(1) The journal goes on to says most of those insulin ER visits are seniors, Medicare’s people. Further the article says that one in three of the ER visits the person is hospitalized. When insulin is dangerous, it is expensive.
The ninety-seven thousand mentioned cited in that article is MORE than the government estimate of Americans who go to the ER for stimulants including methamphetamines.(2) It is shocking that insulin beats Breaking Bad as a reason Americans go to the ER.
However, the comparison does help put good self-management in perspective. Clearly a goal is the safe use of insulin that helps keep Americas well, particularly seniors. Quality of life and cost are both better if we can prevent the need for emergency room visits and avoiding unnecessary hospital admissions expenses to Medicare.
We all have heard of medical trials. Trials, because they can impact the participant’s health, have strict rules. Some of those rules came about as the result of studies that were unethically done on people without their permission or knowledge.(3) It seems logical that if someone were going to introduce new means of accessing something as critical to maintaining health as test strips that they would follow the trails safety rules.
Unfortunately, that was not the case.
Medicare changed the rules for how beneficiaries get test strips. Medicare tested it in 2011 in nine pilot cities around the country. But they didn’t treat it as a trial or follow safe protocols. Maybe because they judged the rules don’t apply to them as a government agency. Medicare said it was a huge success, they saved money and there were few complaints and no disruption.
An article in Diabetes Care, the Journal of American Diabetes Association, looked carefully at Medicare’s data. It showed that in the nine pilot cities(4) there was a disruption of patients access to test strips. How and how many strips people with diabetes acquired shifted. In some cases, people on insulin stopped receiving testing supplies. The researchers found an increase in hospitalizations, higher cost, and more mortality in people with diabetes using insulin in the test cities.
I don’t know who is right, Medicare, who says there was no harm and extended the program nationwide or the researchers who found statistically significant increase in mortality, hospitalization, and costs in Medicare’s data. I am not a scientist, a statistician or a bioethicist. I do want to know if people on Medicare are safe.
Congress is paying the bills. They authorized this experiment. They should find out what the truth is and tell us is Medicare program safe? ACT NOW to ask Congress to get to the truth.
(1) Geller AI, Shehab N, Lovegrove MC, et al. National Estimates of Insulin-Related Hypoglycemia and Errors Leading to Emergency Department Visits and Hospitalizations. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(5):678-686. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.136. https://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1835360
(2) National Institute on Drug Abuse. Drug-Related Hospital Emergency Room Visits Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/drug-related-hospital-emergency-room-visits
(4) Test sites included Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord (North Carolina and South Carolina); Cincinnati-Middletown(Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana); Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor (Ohio); Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington (Texas); Kansas City(Missouri and Kansas); Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach (Florida); Orlando (Florida); Pittsburgh(Pennsylvania); and Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario (California)