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Digestive Health and Wellness

New Legislation Aims to Extend Nutrition Care to Chronic Conditions

Sierra Manning

Research & Advocacy Coordinator, Celiac Disease Foundation

How expanding Medicare coverage for Medical Nutrition Therapy could be the difference between life and death for many patients.

For many medical conditions, following a specific prescribed diet significantly affects health and mortality, and adapting to a lifelong medically necessary diet often requires counseling from a registered dietitian or other nutrition professional. Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT) provided by a registered dietitian nutritionist can help patients better adhere to their diets and is a cost-effective component of treatment for celiac disease and other chronic conditions, yet is currently only covered by Medicare for patients with diabetes, renal disease, and post-kidney transplant.

The Medical Nutrition Therapy Act of 2020, introduced by U.S. Representatives Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Peter King (R-NY) and by U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Gary Peters (D-MI), aims to expand Medicare coverage to give Medicare beneficiaries access to the care they need. These bipartisan bills would provide coverage of MNT for people with celiac disease, prediabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, malnutrition, eating disorders, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and unintentional weight loss. This bill would also authorize nurse practitioners, physician assistants, clinical nurse specialists, and psychologists to refer their patients for MNT.

Counseling provided by a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) as part of a health care team can positively impact dietary adherence, weight, blood pressure, blood lipids, and blood sugar control. For many chronic conditions, this counseling can significantly impact mortality. In the case of celiac disease, a lack of dietary compliance leads to a six times greater risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and a four times greater risk of small bowel cancer, making dietary counseling an integral part of care for a condition whose only treatment is strict dietary adherence. 

Medicare coverage drives what private insurers will cover, making covered MNT for seniors the first step towards covered MNT for all celiac disease patients. People can show support for nutrition care for those in need by asking Members of Congress to co-sponsor the Medical Nutrition Therapy Act of 2020. You can urge your Members of Congress to support this important legislation here.

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