Guest Commentary

Guest commentary: Vital diabetes device denied by Medicare

I’ve been a lot of things in my life.

I’ve been a medical technologist. I’ve been a mother and grandmother. And I’ve gone from being wheelchair-bound — from having to learn how to walk all over again in my middle age — to being a half-marathoner, a mountain climber and the first woman in the United States to be an FAA-designated powered parachute sport pilot.

I’ve done all this while living with Type 1 diabetes. I was told at 14 years old that my disease meant I should never have children and that I should prepare for a shortened, inactive life.

But today I’m angry — angry at a government bureaucracy more interested in preserving the status quo than with helping seniors.

I’m angry because people like me are being denied an essential medical treatment by Medicare, the federal program that’s supposed to be supporting seniors, not forcing them to abandon an essential medical device.

The device I use is called Omnipod. It’s a wireless insulin delivery pump. The “pod” of the Omnipod is small and can be placed just about anywhere on my body. This “pod” lasts for three days, using a small needle to inject the insulin I need. Since blood sugar that spikes too low or too high can lead to permanent disability, or even death, my Omnipod is more than just a luxury: It’s the thing that helps keep me alive.

The second part of the Omnipod device is a personal diabetes manager, which is a little bit bigger than a deck of cards. I can keep it in my handbag or even across the room —– there, it can control those injections, monitor my progress and help keep me healthy.

A few months before turning 65, I was told that unlike almost all private insurers in this country, Medicare wouldn’t pay for Omnipod. And I was even more confused to learn that this was the only FDA-approved insulin pump not covered by Medicare.

This doesn’t make much sense to me, and I’m not the only one: Republicans and Democrats in Congress have written to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which run Medicare. They’ve explained that Congress passed a law years ago giving Medicare the authority to cover innovative medical devices under its “Part D” program. But so far, Medicare has chosen not to use this authority, even though this device doesn’t cost any more than the ones it already pays for.

I’m going to keep fighting to make sure Medicare is doing its job because it’s important to seniors. And because I’ve never been a quitter.

When I was told I couldn’t have children, I searched and sought out the best doctor in the state and got the medical care I needed to start a family.

When I was told I would never walk again, I accepted my daughters’ challenge to participate in a half marathon. A year later, we crossed that finish line together.

And when I was told that turning 65 meant losing this device, I remembered that growing up in a small town in Kansas taught me to be frugal. So for the past two years, my husband and I have dug into our savings in order to pay for this treatment out of pocket. It was tough, but we’ve made the sacrifice because it’s worth it.

No senior in this country should have to sacrifice like that, especially when they’re living with Type 1 diabetes.

I’ve been a lot of things in my life. But today, I’m stepping up in my most important role: I’m a citizen. And I won’t stop advocating until the voices of seniors living with Type 1 diabetes are heard, and choices about our health are where they belong: between patients and our doctors.

Susan Vietti is a Kansas native who lives in Shawnee.