Dual use of Department of Veterans Affairs and medicare benefits and use of test strips in veterans with type 2 diabetes mellitus

JAMA Intern Med. 2015 Jan;175(1):26-34. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.5405.


Importance: Self-monitoring of blood glucose is a costly component of care for diabetes mellitus, with unclear benefits for patients not taking insulin. Veterans with dual Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Medicare benefits have access to test strips through both systems, raising the potential for overuse.

Objectives: To examine the patterns of test strip receipt among older veterans with diabetes and determine whether receipt of strips from dual health care systems is associated with overuse.

Design, setting, and participants: We performed a cross-sectional, retrospective cohort study using national VA administrative data linked to Medicare Parts A, B, and D claims for fiscal years 2008 and 2009. A total of 363,996 community-dwelling veterans 65 years or older with diabetes who used the VA health care system and received test strips in fiscal year 2009 were included in the study.

Exposures: Receipt of test strips from the VA only, Medicare only, or both the VA and Medicare; covariates included sociodemographics, comorbidity, diabetes complications, and hemoglobin A1c level.

Main outcomes and measures: Quantity of test strips dispensed and overuse of test strips, defined as more than 1 strip per day (>365 strips per year) among those taking no diabetes medications, oral diabetes medications alone, or long-acting insulin without short-acting insulin or more than 4 strips per day (>1460 strips per year) among those taking short-acting insulin.

Results: Overall, 260,688 older veterans (71.6%) with diabetes received strips from the VA only, 82,826 (22.8%) from Medicare only, and 20,482 (5.6%) from the VA and Medicare. Veterans receiving strips from both the VA and Medicare received more strips (median, 600; interquartile range [IQR], 350-1000) than the Medicare only (median, 400; IQR, 200-700) and VA only (median, 200; IQR, 100-500) groups (P < .001) and had substantially greater odds of overuse than the VA only group (55.4% vs 15.8%) (adjusted odds ratio [OR], 16.3; 95% CI, 14.6-18.1 for no medications; 55.3% vs 6.0%; OR, 19.8; 95% CI, 18.9-20.8 for oral medications; 87.4% vs 65.5%; OR, 3.69; 95% CI, 3.30-4.14 for long-acting insulin; and 32.8% vs 13.5%; OR, 3.24; 95% CI, 3.05-3.45 for short-acting insulin). Patterns were similar when using more conservative thresholds of overuse.

Conclusions and relevance: Veterans who receive glucose test strips through both the VA and Medicare use more strips and are more likely to potentially overuse strips. These results illustrate the profound importance of understanding dual VA and Medicare coverage and are emblematic of waste and inefficiency.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Blood Glucose Self-Monitoring / economics*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / blood
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / economics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicare / economics*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs / economics*
  • Veterans*