IOM: Medicare Should Cover Diet Counseling
Medicare should cover immune-suppressing drugs for transplant patients, nutritional counseling, skin cancer screening and clinical trial participation, according to a report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM). Noting that the "high cost of immunosuppressive drugs, which may total from $5,000 to $16,000 each year, means most transplant recipients need financial assistance to pay for them," the report recommends that Congress eliminate the 44-month cap on coverage for such medicines. Although the cost would total $778 million during the first five years, Dr. Robert Lawrence, Johns Hopkins University professor of health policy, explained that "[i]f a patient loses a graft, it can cost $40,000 a year. So [paying for the drugs] is cheaper and provides a better quality of life" (Fox, Reuters/Detroit Free Press, 12/16). The IOM also suggested that Medicare add a new benefit covering nutrition counseling to "help senior citizens change their diets when a doctor recommends it." An IOM panel reported that 86% of elderly Medicare beneficiaries are afflicted with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, which are all conditions that can be improved through dietary adjustments. "For several conditions that are very prevalent in the elderly, initial therapy should be (changes in) diet," Dr. Lawrnece Appel, an IOM panel member and Johns Hopkins University associate professor of medicine, said. The report estimates that the new preventive benefit would cost $1.4 billion over five years, but also notes that in that time, Medicare could save up to $167 million over the same time period on hospital stays and other treatments by offering dietary counseling for high blood pressure victims alone (Love, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/16). Based on the premise that clinical trials often lead to the "front line of medical care," the IOM also urged Medicare to pay for beneficiaries' participation in experimental drug and treatment testing (Reuters/Detroit Free Press, 12/16).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.