We are in an unprecedented time as people around the world confront the threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19). People with diabetes are especially impacted, as they face a higher risk of developing dangerous complications from coronavirus. That is why the American Diabetes Association (ADA) is hard at work advocating for policies in the U.S. that will help the more than 122 million people with diabetes or prediabetes continue to thrive. Right now, we are working with state and federal lawmakers to make sure that people with diabetes can safely manage their diabetes while still following physical distancing recommendations, and to ensure that they can still access the care they need should they lose their job or income due to coronavirus. As a result of ADA’s engagement with agencies like the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal government has already made it easier for people with diabetes by waiving some face-to-face visits, so people using test strips, insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors will be able to maintain coverage without leaving home to see their physician. The following blog focuses on important policy changes made at the federal level.
What’s happening now?
Many of you raised your voices to urge Congress to consider the needs of people with diabetes in legislative rescue packages, and we wanted to share an update with you on the status of that request. So far, Congress has passed three bills to provide relief for individuals and families impacted by coronavirus and we expect further action in the weeks to come. These include an $8.3 billion package dedicated to fighting the coronavirus on March 3, a $100 billion package including paid sick leave and unemployment benefits changes on March 18, and a roughly $2 trillion package on March 27 that will include checks for individuals and households, as well as relief for highly-impacted industries.
Here are a few of the ways these new laws will help people with diabetes during the COVID-19 health crisis:
- Expanding paid leave.
Congress recognized the critical need for paid leave during this pandemic and has required that companies with fewer than 500 employees provide two weeks of paid sick leave to full-time employees who need to quarantine, who are caring for someone under quarantine or who have a child whose school or child care center has been closed. For those who are living with diabetes or are caring for someone with diabetes, these protections can be a necessity to ensure they are able to stay healthy and safe.
- Providing insurance coverage and flexible options for care.
The federal government has also enacted policies to provide insurance coverage for coronavirus testing and promote physical distancing while individuals receive care. For instance, high deductible health plans are now allowed to cover telehealth services before an enrollee reaches their deductible. Limitations on telehealth under Medicare have also been eased, allowing seniors to receive certain types of care remotely, including from their own home. Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage plans are now also required to cover up to a 3-month supply of drugs, helping people with diabetes abide by recommendations to stay home. Again, Medicare has waived requirements for certain in-person visits, so people with diabetes using test strips, insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors will be able to maintain coverage without leaving home. For seniors at risk for diabetes, Medicare has made it easier to participate in virtual Diabetes Prevention Programs, allowing more virtual make-up classes.
- Covering a vaccine—and funding the research needed to find it.
Looking forward, Congress has required coverage without cost-sharing of an eventual coronavirus vaccine—and has provided the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with more than $1.5 billion for research related to coronavirus, including research toward a vaccine.
- Supporting programs that combat food insecurity.
Food security is an increasing concern when many businesses have been forced to close temporarily and their employees face smaller paychecks or even unemployment. Federal legislation now suspends most work and training requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and provides additional funding for the Women Infants and Children (WIC) program to increase food access to low-income pregnant women or mothers with young children who lose their jobs due to coronavirus. People with food insecurity face a twofold risk of diabetes compared to those who are not food insecure, so ensuring access to these programs is critical to keep Americans healthy in this hard time.
- Keeping people fed.
Under normal circumstances, many children receive two meals a day at school. With schools closed, food security is a particular concern for families who relied on programs like the National School Lunch program to nourish their children. Child and adult care centers will now be allowed to offer food to go. The legislation has also enabled the home delivery of Senior Nutrition Program meals to seniors and people with disabilities. People with diabetes are facing enough challenges with coronavirus; providing nutritious meals shouldn’t be one of them.
While we are pleased that Congress and federal agencies have taken steps to help, more needs to be done. It is essential that leaders remove barriers to care during this time. That’s why we are asking Congress to require a zero-dollar co-pay cap for insulin under Medicare Part D to ensure seniors can afford their insulin during this time. We are also asking Congress to guarantee that individuals with diabetes who have lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19 do not experience an interruption in their health insurance coverage.
How you can help:
If you can, consider taking a moment to send a message to your elected officials and urge them to take action now to make these changes. We’ve made it easy for you at diabetes.org/advocacy/platform.
To receive updates, sign up to be an advocate. We’ll keep you posted with ways to help us tell Congress to protect people with diabetes. It’s more important to be an advocate now than ever before.
The diabetes community is resilient, and we will get through this together. That’s what it means to be Connected for Life.
Meghan Riley is the Vice President of Federal Government Affairs for the ADA. If you are struggling to pay for insulin or know someone who is, the ADA has resources to help—visit InsulinHelp.org.