Many chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and kidney disease are closely tied with nutrition.
Nutrition plays an important role in treating and reducing complications from these conditions.
As such, you may wonder whether Medicare covers nutrition counseling if you are a beneficiary.
This article discusses the importance of nutrition for health and whether Medicare covers nutrition counseling.
Benefits of a healthy diet
Nutrition is just one of the many factors linked to good health, but it’s an important one.
Eating enough of the right foods ensures that your body gets the nutrients it needs to function properly.
When you don’t eat enough of the right foods, you’re less able to fight infections, maintain a healthy weight, and keep your body and mind strong.
A healthy diet emphasizes nutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats, and limits foods high in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium (1).
Does Medicare cover nutrition counseling?
Medicare Part B (medical insurance) covers medical nutrition therapy (MNT) or nutrition counseling for certain conditions.
MNT is a nutrition-based treatment provided by a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN).
Dietitians provide MNT for many medical diseases and conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, cancer, and obesity.
These services can be provided at a hospital, long-term care facility, a medical office, or through a phone call or video chat, otherwise known as telehealth.
However, although dietitians provide MNT for many diseases and conditions, Medicare currently covers only diabetes and kidney disease.
Nutrition counseling for diabetes and kidney disease
Eligible Medicare beneficiaries can receive nutrition counseling provided by a dietitian who is enrolled as a Medicare provider (2).
These services are provided at no cost when referred by a physician.
Medicare Advantage — also known as Medicare Part C — also covers nutrition counseling for diabetes and kidney disease at no cost.
As a Medicare beneficiary, you are eligible to receive nutrition counseling from a dietitian if you have diabetes, kidney disease, or have had a kidney transplant within the past three years.
Medicare covers three hours of nutrition counseling the first year and up to two hours of counseling the following years.
However, if your physician believes that you may benefit from additional hours, they can provide a second referral for more nutrition counseling covered by Medicare.
Benefits of nutrition counseling for diabetes and kidney disease
Nutrition counseling can help prevent, delay, and improve health outcomes of diabetes and kidney disease.
Diabetes is a condition that occurs when your body can’t produce enough insulin or effectively use it.
Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas that lowers blood sugar or glucose by transporting the sugar into cells for energy.
When your body can’t produce enough insulin or effectively use its own, blood sugars can become dangerously low or high.
Over time, these dangerous fluctuations in blood sugar can damage blood vessels and nerves throughout your body.
Eating a healthy diet with diabetes keeps your body’s blood sugars in a healthy range and can reduce your risk of heart disease and kidney disease.
These improvements can decrease the medications or dose that you may take to manage diabetes or conditions like high blood pressure and cholesterol.
Medicare doesn’t currently cover nutrition counseling for prediabetes.
Kidney disease is the progressive and gradual decline in kidney function.
Your kidneys filter blood to remove waste and extra fluid and produce hormones needed to make red blood cells and vitamin D.
With kidney disease, your kidneys can’t effectively perform these functions.
Kidney disease can cause anemia, bone disease, fluid retention, and increase your risk of heart disease (5).
However, with the right diet, you can minimize kidney damage and slow kidney disease progression.
In one study, people with kidney disease who received nutrition counseling had less of a decline in kidney function and were less likely to start dialysis than those who received no nutrition counseling (7).
The bottom line
Nutrition is an important component for disease treatment and management.
Medicare Part B and Medicare Advantage cover nutrition counseling for diabetes and kidney disease at no cost when provided by a dietitian who is enrolled as a Medicare provider.