medical aid for diabetics
If there’s one question we get all the time, it’s about the insulin pump: what is it, how it works and how to get it covered by medical aid. So we’ve gathered together all your Frequently Asked Questions, and found the answers.
Meet the expert
Name: Imke Kruger
How long have you been diabetic? 25 years
How long have you been on the pump? 5 years
What made you decide to get an insulin pump?
I battled to get my blood glucose under control on multiple daily injections, especially when doing sports. It was before my first 94.7 cycle challenge that my doctor suggested insulin pump therapy. It has changed my life! I can’t imagine life without my Accu-Chek Combo pump.
What do you love about the pump?
Everything! It helps me to live life the way I want to. I love the discreetness of it – I can give a bolus in a meeting or when going out with my friends, without anyone noticing.
What are some of the challenges?
The first two months were difficult to get used to sleeping with the pump, but now I don’t even realize that I’m wearing it. The challenge is more with diabetes – not the pump. It’s important to realise that insulin pump therapy is not taking the condition away. There are so many variables in diabetes, and that will always be a challenge.
When should someone consider getting an insulin pump?
- If they are experiencing severe hypoglycaemic (low blood sugar) episodes despite careful management.
- If they are on multiple daily injections, following a meal plan, testing their blood glucose levels 4 times a day, and still not getting target HbA1c results.
- If they have irregular eating, working and resting times.
Insulin pump therapy won’t work for those who aren’t committed to it, and there isn’t enough evidence to recommend it for Type 2 diabetics.
A more comprehensive description of the Indications and Contra-Indications to Pump therapy can be found in the SA Guidelines for Insulin Pump Therapy. A Amod, M Carrihill, JA Dave, LA Distiller, W May, I Paruk, FJ Pirie, D Segal, Association of Clinical Endocrinologists of South Africa (ACE-SA) JEMDSA 2013;18(1):15-19.
FAQ about the insulin pump from our community:
What is an insulin pump?
- Insulin pumps are portable devices attached to the body that deliver constant amounts of rapid or short acting insulin via an infusion set.
- The pump tries to mimic the release of insulin from a normal pancreas, but you have to tell it how much insulin to inject.
- It delivers insulin in two ways: a basal rate which is a continuous, small trickle of insulin that keeps blood glucose stable between meals and overnight; and a bolus rate, which is a much higher rate of insulin taken before eating to “cover” the food you plan to eat or to correct a high blood glucose level.
- Because the insulin pump stays connected to the body, it allows the wearer to change the amount of insulin they take with the press of a few buttons at any time of day. You can also program in a higher or lower rate of insulin delivery at a chosen time – when sleeping or doing sports, for instance.
Where do you buy an insulin pump and how much does it cost?
You need to be a patient at one of the accredited pump centres in South Africa. Your doctor will decide if you are a pump candidate according to the Association of Clinical Endocrinologists of South Africa (ACE-SA) guidelines. If you are, you will need a script to claim the pump through your medical aid, or buy it cash from one of the supplying pharmacies.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using an insulin pump?
Insulin pump therapy improves metabolic control while giving you greater freedom and a better quality of life.
- Your metabolism stays more stable, with better HbA1c values and fewer low blood sugar episodes.
- You can be more flexible in your eating, if you understand the concept of carbohydrate counting.
- You can participate in sports whenever you feel like it — without having to plan in advance
Disadvantages are that you have too much freedom in making food choices, and that there is a risk of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) from pump malfunction or absorption problems.
Remember: Deciding on insulin pump therapy is not a simple decision and should be carefully discussed with your healthcare team.
Will my blood sugar control be better if I use an insulin pump?
It all depends on you. You can wear a pump and it can have no impact on your blood sugar. Or you can use a pump, and with the right settings, motivation and help from your healthcare team, you can have better blood sugar control.
Will I still have to test my blood sugar as much?
A pump patient needs to be a motivated patient who tests regularly, around 4 times a day.
Are there insulin pumps that have a Continuous Glucose Meter attached?
Yes there are – it’s a good idea to discuss with your healthcare team which pump would best suit your needs
How would the insulin pump be used for sports? Are there special casings made or will I have to play without it?
You can engage in any kind of physical activity while wearing an insulin pump. But for sports with intensive body contact and water sports we recommend temporarily disconnecting the insulin pump (not for longer than 1 hour). Special cases and pouches can protect the pump, but it’s always a good idea to insure it as well.
At what age can you put a child on the insulin pump and how easy is it for them to adapt?
I would say at any age, but it’s best to get advice from your pediatric endocrinologist. Children often adapt the easiest of all age groups to insulin pump therapy.
What is the risk of infection?
If you follow the right hygiene steps, the risks are low. You should always disinfect the pump site before inserting the infusion set. It is also critical to replace the infusion set every three days.
How much is an insulin pump with and without medical aid?
That depends on the type of medical aid plan and whether the medical aid covers the costs fully or partly. It would be best to discuss this with your healthcare team or your medical aid. If your doctor agrees that pump therapy is the best option for you, they will send an application to the medical aid.
Ask the expert: Dr Claudine Lee, GP
“Pump therapy is a beautiful and practical way of delivering insulin that tries to fit in with you, the patient, in terms of meals, exercise and illness, as well as just living a normal life.”
There are no two ways about it: insulin is a miracle drug. It was discovered in 1921 and has saved millions of lives in the last 95 years. Andrea Kirk explores the topic.
“In people with Type 1 diabetes, insulin is essential for maintaining good health, and many people died from Type 1 diabetes before insulin,” says endocrinologist Dr Joel Dave. “Insulin therapy is started as soon as the diagnosis is made, and although being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes can be a traumatic experience, with the use of insulin, you can maintain good health and achieve anything in life that those without diabetes can.”
For people with Type 2 diabetes, however, there is often a reluctance to start taking insulin. Some people manage to control their blood sugar without it, by making changes to their diet, getting more exercise and going on oral medication. But for others, insulin is a necessity.
“There’s a huge stigma about this,” says Mark Smith, who was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes a year ago. “I feel like starting insulin would mean that I’ve failed at controlling my blood sugar with lifestyle changes.”
Diabetes educator, Jeanne Berg, sees things differently. “Diabetes is a progressive condition and insulin therapy is inevitable. Some people take longer to get to the point of starting insulin than others, but every patient with diabetes gets there eventually. There shouldn’t be any shame or sense of failure in this.”
Jeanne says that in the past, doctors would try to intimidate people with Type 2 diabetes into changing their lifestyle. “They’d say: if you don’t change your diet and get more exercise, you’ll end up blind, or have your legs amputated, and eventually you’ll die.” This blame-filled approach may be part of the reason there is still such a stigma associated with Type 2 diabetes. “People would think ‘this is all my fault, I did this to myself’, but that is not the whole truth,” says Jeanne. “Diabetes has a genetic inheritance factor to it as well.”
Doctors and diabetes educators today steer away from using scare tactics and encourage people to accept insulin as a means of coping and having a more flexible life with diabetes.
Are there any benefits to starting insulin sooner?
“In people with Type 2 diabetes, there is a theory that glucose can cause damage to the beta-cells of the pancreas, which are the cells that make insulin,” says Dr Dave. “The longer the glucose remains high, the more damage occurs. Since insulin is the best way to lower blood glucose, some suggest that insulin should be taken sooner rather than later in order to preserve beta-cell function for longer.”
Newly diagnosed with diabetes? We get to grips with what your medical scheme can do for you, and what you might have to budget for yourself.
- Join a medical scheme
Diabetes is a chronic condition that’s on the Medical Scheme Act’s Prescribed Minimum Benefits (PMB) List. All registered medical schemes in SA have to provide basic funding for your diagnosis, treatment and care.
- Register your condition
Make sure your condition is registered with your scheme, and be sure to do this again each time you switch. Find out how the registration process works: you’re likely to have to complete a form with the help of your doctor.
- Stay on a scheme
If you leave your current scheme, or join a scheme for the first time, the new scheme may impose a waiting period of 3 to 12 months. During this time, your costs may not be fully covered. Do your research before you join a new scheme and avoid breaks where you don’t belong to a medical scheme at all.
- Use a healthcare broker
Understanding what’s covered by all the schemes out there can be complicated. Do your research with the help of a healthcare broker. Their services are free of charge.
- Reassess your plan
Once a year, you can shift from a basic to a more comprehensive plan, and vice versa. Ask your scheme for your medical records and check what you’ve had to pay out of your own pocket during the year. Do the math to see if it makes sense to upgrade or downgrade your plan.
- Check which meds are covered
Even the most basic plans cover diabetes medication, as long as you choose from the formulary (the list of approved medication). Ask for this list before you choose a plan. Your prescribed medicine might not be available on the scheme’s most basic plan, but it could be on another, more comprehensive plan, or on another scheme’s formulary list.
- Stick to Designated Service Providers (DSPs)
These healthcare providers (doctors, pharmacists and hospitals) have an agreement with your scheme, which means their rates are usually fully covered. Get hold of your scheme’s DSP list and use them. Expect a co-payment if you use a doctor outside of this network.
- Go for your consultations
This will depend on your plan, but some of your doctor’s visits will be covered up to an agreed rate. Some schemes, for example, cover annual visits to the GP, dietician, podiatrist, ophthalmologist and other specialists in full.
- Check up on tests and equipment
Diagnostic tests are usually covered in full, as well as annual HBA1c, creatinine microalbumin and lipid tests. Insulin pumps and other specialised equipment might only be covered by top-tier plans, or not at all.
- Use those additional benefits
Many of SA’s schemes offer free coaching, education and reward programmes. Make use of these benefits – they’ll help you to manage your condition better, saving you money in the long run.
- Half of South African adults are overweight or obese. What that means is increased risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and premature death.
- Our eating habits have changed so much that South Africans now spend more money on beer than on vegetables and fruit combined. What?!
- 45% of South African women are obese, as opposed to only 15% men. In 2013, South African women were the most obese in sub-Saharan Africa. So South African women are the most at risk for obesity.
I asked why that was and apparently there are three reasons:
- Women who were nutritionally deprived as children are more likely to be obese as adults (men who were deprived as children are not).
- Women of higher adult socioeconomic status (which is income, education and occupation) are more likely to be obese, which is not true for men.
- And possibly: in South Africa, women’s perceptions of an ‘ideal’ female body are larger than men’s perceptions of the ‘ideal’ male body – it’s seen as a status symbol to be a heavier woman.
Are you a South African woman? I am… Let’s make sure we’re informed and don’t let obesity happen to us and our sisters, mothers, daughters, friends.
Vitality gathered data from half a million Discovery members to give us these results:
- Their weight status (BMI and waist circumference)
Cape Town scores highest, with 53.5% of Capetonians in a normal weight range. Cape Town also topped the healthy purchasing score (which shows a positive relation between what you buy and whether your weight is in range or not.)
Fruit and vegetables
Cape Town purchased the most portions of fruit and vegetables compared to other cities – see the ranking above. In general, though, South Africans are only eating 3 servings of fruit and vegetables a day, as opposed to the 5 servings we should be eating.
Durban purchased the least amount of salt in SA, with Cape Town purchasing the most. We are eating twice as much salt as we should be in a day: it should only be 5g (1 teaspoon).
Durban came out top of this test too, with the lowest average number of teaspoons of sugar purchased – Bloemfontein purchased the most sugar. And again, we’re eating twice as much sugar as we should be – a staggering 100g a day! (That’s 24 teaspoons – in the food and drink we consume.)
There are a number of factors that play into this, of course. The way we buy our food – the impulse buys, the treats, emotional eating. Fast food is also a huge problem, because it’s loaded with salt, sugar and bad fats. Cooking at home with whole foods (not convenience foods or ready-made meals) has been proven to have an enormous impact on health and weight.
So what should we be eating? Here are some excellent guidelines.
What do you think? This information made me take a closer look at how I shop and what we eat… Not even because I’m diabetic, but just because I want my family to be as healthy as we possibly can.
Celeste Smith is no stranger to gestational diabetes: she’s had it twice, including during her pregnancy with now-five-year-old twins Connor and Adam. We find out what she wishes she’d known before she fell pregnant.
Is there a reason you’re so happy to share this very personal story?
I want to educate, encourage and motivate women with gestational diabetes, and prevent other women from having to go through what I and many others had to endure.
How did you find out you had gestational diabetes?
My first pregnancy was stillborn: Noah was born at 38 weeks. I didn’t know I had gestational diabetes until after Noah was born. We suspected with my family having diabetes that I could get it, but my doctor at the time never picked it up. When I wanted to fall pregnant again, my new doctor Dr Jansen immediately tested for glucose tolerance before I fell pregnant, and then again after I fell pregnant. That’s how we found out I had gestational diabetes again.
What were your symptoms?
What’s tricky about gestational diabetes is that it goes from nothing to full-blown diabetes very quickly. It’s only when you’re pregnant, so there’s no warning beforehand. The symptoms I had were swollen hands and feet, bad circulation, pins and needles in the hands, and constant thirst – I was drinking a lot of water.
Does diabetes run in the family?
Yes – my late mother had Type 2 diabetes, and three of my sisters and my brother have diabetes (half of my eight siblings, in fact!) None of my family recognised my symptoms, but none of us were looking for them: you put your faith in the doctor, that’s what doctors are there for.
What did you do to manage your gestational diabetes?
During my pregnancy with the twins, I was put on Metformin and later insulin. I also had to have monthly HbA1c tests and test my blood sugar seven times a day: when I woke up, before each meal, after each meal and before I went to bed. My fingers had so many holes in them; I didn’t know where to prick myself! I went to a dietician, which was helpful, we discussed good eating habits and made a lot of changes – we started eating more steamed foods and not so much starch (like potatoes, bread and pasta). And I started exercising. My diabetes doctor, Dr Dave, told me I had to exercise every day, even when I was tired after working all day.
What advice would you offer to women with gestational diabetes?
Listen to your doctors, stick to your eating plan and exercise a little bit every day. Stay focused: this is for the health of your babies. It helps that you just have to stay focused for nine months, and then the reward at the end is breathtaking. My boys were big for twins (2.8kg/each at 35 weeks) and healthy. I’ll never forget how relieved I was to hear both babies crying in the delivery room. They were both crying at the same time, and the doctor said: “Wow, they sound like a choir!”
What makes your life sweet?
I could say sunsets and sunrises, I could say my religion or even cupcakes and chocolates. But my husband and three boys are the light of my life, and sharing everything with them makes my life so sweet.
Did you know that if you have diabetes and you’re a member of a medical aid, they have to – by law – give you certain benefits for free? Nicole McCreedy explains all you need to know about PMBs.
If you’re a Type 1 or a Type 2 diabetic and you belong to a medical aid, you have the right to certain health services, known as Prescribed Minimum Benefits (PMBs). There are about 300 medical conditions where PMBs apply, and 26 of those are chronic conditions like Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
Your health is important
PMBs were introduced to the Medical Schemes Act to protect members. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how healthy you are, or which medical aid option you are on (yes – even hospital plan counts!) Your medical aid has to provide minimum healthcare if you have a chronic condition – at no extra cost. You shouldn’t have to pay extra (over and above your monthly medical aid contribution) for certain medical services for diabetes. Because the government has made this law, it is also impossible for medical aids to charge you more or force you to lose your medical aid cover because you have a serious medical condition.
When you can (and can’t) use PMBs
What does this mean? A medical aid must pay in full, without any co-payment from you, for the diagnosis, treatment and care costs of the PMB condition (your diabetes). The medical aid cannot use your medical savings account or day-to-day benefit to pay for PMBs. Remember, though, that PMBs are subject to pre-authorisation (you have to register your PMB with the medical aid first), protocols (specific treatment and medication guidelines), and making use of designated service providers (hospitals, pharmacies and doctors that they have chosen). So you can’t expect your medical aid to cover the costs of your diabetes care unless you play by their rules, and you may not be able to get the same doctors and medicine as you had before.
Sometimes, members will not have cover for PMBs from their medical aid. This can happen if you join a medical aid for the first time (without switching from another medical aid) or if you join a new medical aid more than 90 days after leaving the previous one. If this is the case, there is a waiting period, during which you won’t have access to the PMBs for any pre-existing condition for 12 months.
Diabetes treatment and PMBs
The treatment of diabetes focuses on the control of blood sugar levels. Treatment involves all aspects of your lifestyle, especially nutrition and exercise, but most people with diabetes also use medicine (usually insulin) at some point. Treatment of other risk factors, like blood pressure and high cholesterol, is also very important.
Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes qualify as PMBs and must be treated according to PMB regulations for diagnosis, medical management and medication. You can ask your medical aid about the following treatments that should be covered:
- Visits to your doctor (GP or specialist – if authorised).
- Dietary and disease education.
- Annual eye exam for retinopathy.
- Annual comprehensive foot exam.
- Blood tests every 3 to 6 months.
- Disease identification card or disc.
- Home blood sugar testing.
How to get your Prescribed Minimum Benefits:
Step 1: Register
Phone your medical aid and tell them you want pre-authorisation for diabetes PMBs. They will ask for a code that your doctor will be able to give you. It is very important that you have the right ICD-10 code – this gives the right information about your condition and helps the medical aid to know what benefits you are allowed. A PMB condition can only be identified by the correct ICD-10 codes. If you give the wrong ICD-10 code, your PMB services might be paid from the wrong benefit (like your medical savings account), or it might not be paid at all if your day-to-day or hospital benefit limits have run out.
Step 2: Your service will be pre-authorised
After you have registered your chronic condition for PMB, your benefits will be authorised and you can ask for your PMB schedule, which tells you exactly what you get for free.
The A to Z of PMBs
Chronic Diseases List (CDL)
A list of the 26 conditions (including diabetes) that qualify for PMBs.
Medicine used for the long-term treatment (three months or longer) of a chronic condition. The chronic medicine must be used to prevent or treat a serious medical condition, to sustain life and to delay the progress of a disease. It must also be the accepted treatment according to treatment guidelines (protocols).
The difference between the cover provided by the medical aid and the cost of the medical service – payable directly to the service provider.
Designated Service Provider (DSP)
Doctors and other health care providers who have been chosen by the aid to “provide its members diagnosis, treatment and care” for PMB conditions.
Emergency Medical Condition
A medical condition that needs immediate medical or surgical treatment.
An official list of the medication that can be prescribed for the treatment of the 26 conditions on the Chronic Diseases List (CDL).
An international clinical code that describes a disease diagnosis. If you want to qualify for PMBs, you must be sure your doctor puts the correct ICD-10 code on all your forms.
Medicine for the treatment of the 26 conditions on the Chronic Diseases List (CDL) qualifies for PMBs, as long as you provide all the necessary information. This can be anything from a diagnosis by a specialist to results of certain tests – your medical aid will tell you what you need.
Prescribed Minimum Benefits (PMBs)
The minimum benefits that must be provided to all medical aid members. These include diagnosis, treatment and care costs for a number of conditions, including diabetes.
Protocols (Treatment Guidelines)
There is a minimum standard treatment for each PMB condition. Medical aids use these guidelines to come up with protocols (treatment guidelines) and formularies (lists of approved medication) to manage PMBs.
This article was reviewed by:
- Alain Peddle, Discovery Health
- Herman van Zyl, Principal financial advisor, HVZ Financial Consultants
- Rossouw van Zyl, Brokers, t/a Medinet, Authorised Financial Service Provider
- Michael A.J. Brown, Accredited Diabetes Educator, Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology, Houghton
I would like to find out which medical aids have the most benefits for diabetes ?
Lisa has a question I’m sure we’d all like the answer to… Please weigh in and let’s see what the diabetes community in South Africa has to say about this!
I have been a government patient at Groote Schuur while I have been studying and now that I am in freelance work I am looking into medical aid. There are so many and it is so confusing.
As you have a network of diabetics at your fingertips I am sure that there is banter as to which one is best for us. I went to meet with Discovery and although they are the most popular in healthcare they would only start covering my pre-existing condition after 12 months. I looked at Fedhealth and they will cover my diabetic meds after 3 months so already I prefer them!
As I freelance I can only afford around the R1200 mark. When they say PMB does that mean that all diabetic health checks would be included as well as my meds or if i went to a GP would I have to pay for that consultation?!
Also the doctor I was seeing said as I am a brittle diabetic I would be a good candidate for the insulin pump but government healthcare cannot supply that due to the cost. Would any medical aid supply me with this….Lots of questions I hope you can help!
– Lisa Rouhana
Answer from our Editor, Bridget McNulty:
I can definitely give you my perspective but would also be happy to put it on the Sweet Life community blog (www.sweetlifemag.co.za/ community) if you want input from other diabetics? I think more advice is always good!
PMBs are prescribed minimum benefits, and as a diabetic that includes all your meds, as long as you choose the ones that the medical aid has on their formulary (you can ask them for their formulary list to be sure yours are on there, but it’s generally possible to get any brand). They often won’t cover you for 3/12 months for any other check-ups, but they have to cover your chronic medicine. Ask to see the chronic illness benefit details and that will give you more clarity as to what you can get.
I’m on Discovery and I get all my meds and 4 x endocrinologist visits a year (they sometimes have to be reminded of this!) as part of the chronic benefit. I think most medical aids are pretty similar on hospital plan, but it’s definitely worth shopping around. I have a very nice Discovery broker if you want to chat to him? That’s generally how they work (and it’s no extra cost to you).
As for the pump, I know that it’s only the top tier medical aid that it gets automatically covered, but I have heard of people motivating for one. The trouble there is that even if you get the pump, they don’t always cover the monthly consumables (on top of the insulin) so you may have to pay for that yourself. You can find out if you’re ready for an insulin pump here.
Again, this is just one perspective – let me know if you’d like me to open up the conversation!
Have a lovely day,