Medicare should expand coverage of medical nutrition therapy (MNT) for certain diseases such as hypertension, obesity and cancer, a nutritionists and dieticians group said Monday.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics said it has prepared a request for expansion of MNT coverage for those specific illnesses to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as part of the CMS National Coverage Determination Process.

Currently Medicare only reimburses nutrition therapy services that are provided by a registered dietitian for people with diabetes and renal disease, said Marsha Schofield, the Academy’s Director of Nutrition Services Coverage. She said current coverage is not enough in light of the nation’s declining health and escalating healthcare costs. 

Lawmakers should expand Medicare coverage for services that are reasonable and necessary for the prevention of an illness especially because the escalating number of baby boomers who are entering the Medicare system, Schofield said.

“The majority of Medicare spending is on individuals with chronic conditions, and almost 70 percent of Medicare beneficiaries suffer from cardiovascular disease. Chronic conditions can be controlled or treated with medical nutrition therapy, so it just makes sense to try to expand the Medicare beneficiary's access to these important services.” Schofield added. 

The Academy’s request presents 20 different studies that show the benefits and cost effectiveness of medical nutrition therapy in older adults with several health complications. 

Schofield says the document shows that “[m]edical nutrition therapy services result in positive dietary change, improved clinical status, and an improved quality of life. Also, they are cost effective and have been proven to save money.”

The academy says it submitted results of previous studies by registered dieticians showing that MNT promotes positive changes in dietary intake of reduced fats and sodium have significantly improved outcomes for older adults with high cholesterol, hypertension and cancer.

Medical nutrition therapy is administered by registered dietitians who are trained professionals who offer food and nutrition services by helping patients make healthy lifestyle changes.