Seniors managing diabetes are counting on Congress to protect their essential lab services

For America’s seniors, diabetes is now the number one health condition leading to frequent emergency room visits, according to a recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. On top of that staggering statistic, the CDC reports that one in four seniors has diabetes—the highest prevalence among any age group.

Most patients know that disease monitoring and management requires reliable access to routine testing. Clinical laboratory diagnostics are essential tools that seniors use to navigate a number of health challenges, including diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, prostate and colon cancers, anemia, infections, and opioid dependency. As with all diseases, early detection and consistent management of diabetes means that patients and doctors have opportunities to achieve better health outcomes – a victory for both patients and the broader health system.

“This study shows that there are opportunities for both cost savings and more targeted interventions to help improve outcomes for seniors in the emergency department, where they often experience the health care system,” said Kelly J. Ko, PhD, who co-authored the recent study on seniors’ ER use, and also serves as Director of Clinical Research at the West Health Institute.

For the 12 million seniors struggling to manage their diabetes and reduce complications, reliable access to appropriate lab tests makes all the difference. In the new Congress, lawmakers have an opportunity to address the root causes of diabetes complications—and many other chronic health conditions facing seniors—by protecting access to essential lab services.

Many seniors who rely on tests to manage chronic diseases may face restricted access to testing in the future due to drastic cuts to Medicare reimbursement, a result of the failed implementation of the Protecting Access to Medicare Act (PAMA). In 2014, Congress passed PAMA to safeguard Medicare beneficiaries’ access to vital health services, including laboratory tests. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) took a flawed and misguided approach to PAMA implementation, resulting in year-over-year slashes to Medicare reimbursement for lab tests. In fact, some of the most common tests that seniors use to treat and diagnose diabetes – like glycosylated hemoglobin tests, microalbumin quantitative tests, and assay of urine creatinine tests – will suffer reimbursement rate cuts of more than 34%. (Read more about PAMA’s impacts on our website).

Ultimately, slashing reimbursement rates will threaten seniors’ access to lab tests and will likely mean more trips to the hospital for patients struggling to manage chronic conditions like diabetes. For lawmakers, protecting access to seniors’ lab tests is an important mission with rare bipartisan support. These harmful PAMA cuts are a real and urgent threat worthy of immediate Congressional attention.

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