What is type 2 diabetes?

Pamela Cannaday by Pamela Cannaday | Licensed since 2011
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This article was updated on: 09/15/2018

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines diabetes as a condition where your body doesn’t make enough of the hormone insulin, or doesn’t use insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps control the amount of blood sugar, or glucose, in the blood and helps it get to cells to give you energy. Type 2 diabetes is one of the most common forms of the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than 29 million people in the United States have diabetes, according to a 2016 report by the National Institutes of Health. That’s about 9.3% of the population. Over a quarter of Americans aged 65 and over have diabetes. And about 95% of adults with this disease have type 2 diabetes.

What are common type 2 diabetes symptoms?

Unlike type 1 diabetes, which often develops during childhood or young adulthood, the symptoms of type 2 diabetes usually develop during middle age or later. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), type 2 diabetes symptoms include:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Frequent hunger
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Sores that won’t heal, or are very slow to heal
  • Blurry eyesight

Keep in mind that not everyone experiences all of these symptoms; some people may have different signs of the disease.  And some people don’t notice any symptoms at all, according to the NIH publication Medline Plus.

What are some possible complications of type 2 diabetes?

Untreated or uncontrolled diabetes can lead to complications with many of your body’s organs, such as your kidneys, eyes, and heart, according to the NIH publication Medline Plus. The NIH reports that people with type 2 diabetes may be at a higher risk (compared with those who don’t have the disease) for:

  • Heart disease
  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy)
  • Kidney damage
  • Damage to the eyes (diabetic retinopathy) – including possible blindness
  • Nerve damage in the feet and legs, which may lead to amputations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • Hearing loss

How can you manage type 2 diabetes?

Your health-care provider may work with you to help you make diet and lifestyle changes to help control your blood sugar. Your doctor might recommend working with a nutritionist to learn more about food choices and a nurse specialist who can teach you self-care techniques to help manage the effects of type 2 diabetes. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) lists other options to manage type 2 diabetes, such as:

  • Regular exercise
  • Losing weight if your doctor advises it
  • Prescription drug therapy, if applicable
  • Regular blood sugar monitoring

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), your doctor might decide that you need to monitor your glucose (blood sugar) levels, and possibly take insulin injections. Of course, type 2 diabetes symptoms and complications may differ from one person to another, so it’s important that you work closely with your doctor to help you manage this disease.

The NIH also mentions that your doctor may prescribe medications to control your cholesterol level and blood pressure, if needed. In some cases, if you are seriously overweight, your doctor may also recommend bariatric surgery to help you lose weight.

Does Medicare cover type 2 diabetes?

Medicare Part B usually covers allowable charges related to the diagnosis and treatment of type 2 diabetes, including some routine screening tests to identify potential complications related to the disease.

In addition, Part B may cover certain medically necessary equipment and supplies you need to manage your diabetes at home, such as glucose monitors, test strips, and lancets, subject to your Part B deductible and coinsurance amounts. Depending on where you live, you may be subject to a new Medicare cost-saving program, the Competitive Bidding Program; if you live in a state under the program, you must purchase your medical equipment from a supplier specially contracted with Medicare in order to be covered.

What about insulin? Medicare Part B typically covers insulin only if your doctor decides that an external insulin pump is medically necessary. However, you may be able to enroll in a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan, or a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan. Each Medicare Prescription Drug Plan maintains its own formulary, or list of covered medications. The formulary may change at any time. You will receive notice from your plan when necessary.

Medicare Advantage plans may give you an alternative way to receive your Medicare benefits. These plans offer all the same coverage as Original Medicare (except for hospice care, which is still provided under Part A), but also individual plans may offer many additional benefits that might appeal to people with type 2 diabetes, such as coverage for prescription drugs like insulin, and routine vision, dental, and hearing care. Note that even if your Medicare Advantage plan covers prescription drugs, you might still want to check and make sure it covers the prescriptions you take, such as insulin, if that applies to you.

Keep in mind that if you choose a Medicare Advantage plan for your Medicare benefits, you must still pay your Part B premium.

If you have questions about Medicare coverage for type 2 diabetes, I am happy to help you. To schedule a phone call or request an email with personalized information, click the appropriate links at the bottom of the page. You can view a list of plans in your area you may qualify for by clicking the “Compare Plans” button.

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