Advocacy Win for the Blind Diabetic Community

A man with a beard holds a tablet device while sitting in an armchair with a white cane resting on his right shoulder.

In 2017, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services made a peculiar policy decision to not reimburse Medicare beneficiaries for continuous glucose monitors when they were used in conjunction with a mobile app.  

Why did this catch our attention? Well, CGMs are used by people with diabetes, and diabetes is the leading driver of new cases of blindness every year. It's also the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults.  

Up until CMS's 2017 policy, mobile apps that could be paired with CGMs were a welcome solution to what was previously an accessibility crisis for the blind diabetic community. These apps rendered the inaccessible CGMs accessible for blind users who could now access vital blood glucose data through their smart phones or tablets.

More than 119 million Americans rely on either Medicare or Medicaid as their primary form of health insurance, so decisions about coverage and reimbursement made by CMS have a big impact.

That's why in March of 2018, the National Federation of the Blind and the Diabetes Action Network sent a letter to the Administrator of CMS that raised concerns over this issue, and urged a reversal of the policy decision that Medicare would not cover CGMs for beneficiaries if they used them in conjunction with a mobile app.

When an unsatisfactory answer came in response, NFB and DAN sent a follow-up letter insisting on more clarity and urging swifter action.

These letters were complements to consistent direct advocacy efforts with CMS staff, the Food and Drug Administration, and members of Congress.

The tireless advocacy of the NFB-DAN team, along with allies and partners, ultimately paid dividends when CMS announced on June 7, 2018 that it would be reversing the coverage policy and allowing Medicare beneficiaries to use CGM devices in conjunction with mobile apps. The official policy change was published the following week.

The result? Blind Medicare beneficiaries who have a prescription from their healthcare provider for a CGM will now be able to use the device in conjunction with their smart phones or tablets, and have the CGM covered by their Medicare insurance plan.

This case study in effective Federation advocacy represents true progress in access to critical health management tools for blind people with diabetes.

Without the expertise and energy of the Diabetes Action Network, this would have been an unlikely outcome. But we all know that when the Federation mobilizes and activates around issues important to blind people, there is nothing that we cannot accomplish.

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