Feds move to add diabetes prevention to Medicare

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The Obama administration is eying an expansion of Medicare to cover diabetes prevention programs, which health officials say could improve the health of millions of people while lowering spending nationwide.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell made the announcement on Wednesday during a speech marking the sixth anniversary of ObamaCare.

“If we can invest in preventing diabetes before it develops, we can improve people’s health, quality of life, and save money,” Burwell said, while also releasing new data that prove for the first time that government-backed preventive programs for diabetes can save Medicare money.

The move would be an expansion of benefits under ObamaCare, which required insurers to cover more preventive services like shots and screenings. Federal health officials have repeatedly said they're trying to promote preventive care as a long-term strategy to lowering health costs.

Burwell also revealed data that prove that government-backed preventive programs can work, citing a study by independent federal actuaries.

The actuaries evaluated a diabetes prevention program led by the National Council of YMCAs, and found that it helped save Medicare about $2,650 per person, compared to people with similar health outside the program.

More than a dozen YMCA centers split up $12 million to offer prevention programs to people at high risk of developing diabetes. Four years later, “rigorous evaluations” of the program found that patients lost about 5 percent of their body weight.

YMCA's prevention program will now serve as a model for national reform, Burwell said.

She said adding diabetes prevention benefits to Medicare would be "the first step in the process to scale up this model." She said she also hopes the new federal data proving the program's effectiveness will also spark emploers and insurers to "begin similiar efforts.