Medicare, and other insurers to different degrees, offer Medical Nutrition Therapy. Nutrition therapy is a way of treating medical conditions by fine tuning dietary intake and behavior. Dietitians, who have degrees in Nutrition, practice it. Medical doctors can also provide nutrition therapy, but they are not especially well trained in it.
THE VALUE OF NUTRITION THERAPY
Not only can nutrition therapy improve the symptoms of a disease (Type 2 Diabetes for example), but it could also prevent conditions like cardiovascular disease. Nutritional therapy is a powerful tool in Preventive Medicine.
Nutrition therapy can also be carried out at home. Crafting a specific dietary intake for an individual may require blood and urine testing, a medical history and a review of dietary practices. However, once the specifics are worked out, it is a therapy whose success is in the hands of the patient and can be practiced independently.
BARRIERS TO GOOD NUTRITION
Eating a nutritionally-balanced diet could cost $1.50 more a day than the average diet – a bump of about $550 a year. The health benefits may make that cost worthwhile, but it does point to one reason why low-income families may find eating healthy a challenge.
Another limitation is the amount of nutritional instruction doctors receive. Here’s a hint: it’s not much. Most medical schools provide less than 25 hours of nutritional instruction over a four years of medical school. Only about 1 in 5 medical schools even require nutritional courses.
Relying on your doctor to do all your nutrition therapy may not be the best idea, even if your doctor is knowledgeable. A Medscape report stated that most physicians spend 13-16 minutes with a patient during a visit. That does not leave a lot of room for complex nutritional planning.
THE ADVANTAGE OF SEEING A REGISTERED DIETITIAN
Registered Dietitians have the special knowledge, and more importantly, the focused attention on nutrition, that doctors do not. This allows them to dig deeper into things like
- The impact of the things you consume
- How exercise can play a role in overall health
- What habits you may have that negatively impact your nutrition
- Cultural patterns and how to adjust for them or make the most of them
- Healthy versus harmful behaviors
- Tools and methods for keeping you accountable
You get these targeted advantages by seeing a dietitian for your nutritional therapy. Better still, Medicare Part B covers it.
MEDICARE and NUTRITION THERAPY SERVICES
Medicare Part B covers Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT) services and certain related services. A Registered Dietitian (RD or RDN) provides the services but patients require a refer from their doctor. Medicare will cover
- A nutritional and lifestyle assessment
- Individual or group nutrition therapy services
- Follow-up visits to check up on progress and management of diet
There is no cost for seeing an RD/RDN because they operate under an agreement to accept Medicare rates. However, like at any doctor’s visit, you may discuss testing or therapies that go outside of the norm. If that should happen, you would be responsible for those additional costs. So, as always, ask if the things being proposed are covered. This is even more important if you are using an insurer other that Medicare.
YOUR INSURANCE AND NUTRITION THERAPY
As you might expect, different insurers value nutrition therapy differently. Investigate what your carrier will cover, under what circumstances they will cover it and if a referral or prior authorization is required.
Many health problems stem from nutrition issues. Take the opportunity to investigate what your insurance will allow, then talk to your doctor about it. Whether you want to eat healthier, need or want to lose weight, or if you are looking to avoid certain diseases, nutrition therapy may be the answer.
Jim Sliney Jr. is a Registered Medical Assistant and a Columbia University trained Writer/Editor who creates education and advocacy materials for patient support groups. He has worked closely with several rare disease communities. Jim also coordinates the patient content for PatientsRising and collaborates with other writers to hone their craft. He’s a native New Yorker where he lives with his wife and all their cats. Connections: Twitter Quora Email