The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently recommended that its Medicare Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) be expanded nationwide by the beginning of 2018. This would make this program the first preventive service to be certified for expansion under Medicare.

The decision comes after news from CMS in March that found a pilot program reduced spending and improved the health of people in the program. In fact, when compared with a similar population not in the program, Medicare estimated savings of $2,650 for each enrollee in the diabetes prevention program over a 15-month period.

What does this mean for employers?

Mary Pigatti

CMS demonstrated the integrity and quality metrics associated with CDC-recognized diabetes prevention programs. They also proved that these programs can provide a return on investment. Investing in the prevention of diabetes more than covers the cost of the program. This is good news for employers looking to reduce health-care costs associated with this chronic and debilitating disease.

Also see: "What’s next for employee portals?"

Approximately 86 million people, or one in three Americans, are living with prediabetes and only 10 percent are even aware that they have the condition. Without interventions, 15–30% of people will develop Type 2 diabetes within five years. The cost of doing nothing is high since health-care expenses for diabetics are 2.3 times higher than for non-diabetics.

The good news is that in many cases the disease is reversible with lifestyle changes. According to the CDC, yearlong, structured lifestyle change interventions delivered by the DPP reduced the incidence of diabetes by 58 percent among adults with prediabetes and by 71 percent in those aged 60 years or older.

The CDC recognizes multiple diabetes prevention programs on its website. These programs include both traditional, local, in-person programs as well as digital solutions that can reach people who may not have access to or the flexibility to participate in a traditional program.

Also see: "4 ways you’re undermining your agency goals."

What do employers need to know when considering a diabetes prevention program?

Look for a CDC-recognized program. CDC-recognized programs deliver a curriculum that is based in science and meets the duration, intensity, reporting requirements and performance criteria deemed necessary by the CDC to prevent type 2 diabetes.

Identify a DPP that integrates into your wellness ecosystem. Look for a diabetes prevention program that plays well with others and has a track record of integrating seamlessly into wellness ecosystems.

Make sure the program fits into your employees’ lives. Personalized, digital programs meet people where they are at and make it convenient for employees to access. Look for services that can be delivered nationally and can engage difficult-to-reach populations.

Look for personalization that engages and inspires change. Culturally relevant and personalized engagement strategies, combined with proven behavior change models, leads to high engagement.

Identify a program that delivers sustainable outcomes. The CDC evaluates diabetes prevention programs to be sure they meet evidence-based standards to achieve expected results. These programs are successful in part, because they require moderate weight loss to achieve preventive health benefits. The goal of the program is to achieve at least 5% average weight loss among participants. Be sure to select a program that delivers on these outcomes and provides lasting results. Many programs can help employees lose weight, but helping them maintain the weight loss is another story. Make sure the program you identify has strong sustainable results.

Find a program that can take in biometric or screening data to identify participants. Employers need a program that can easily identify people who are at risk for the disease to determine who qualifies for a diabetes prevention program. This can be done through integration with a biometric screening tool or the CDC’s pre-screening tool.

With these action items, benefit advisers can help employees prevent diabetes and enjoy a robust life.

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Mary Pigatti

Mary Pigatti

Mary Pigatti is the CEO of Retrofit, Inc.