Many diabetic foot amputations are preventable

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WASHINGTON – It costs $1,400 to cover the oozing sore on the diabetic’s foot with a piece of artificial skin, helping it heal if patients keep pressure off that spot. So when Medicare paid for the treatment but not the extra $100 for a simple walkin

WASHINGTON – It costs $1,400 to cover the oozing sore on the diabetic’s foot with a piece of artificial skin, helping it heal if patients keep pressure off that spot. So when Medicare paid for the treatment but not the extra $100 for a simple walking cast to protect it, an artificial skin maker last year started giving free casts to some needy patients.

Without the right cushioning, "the person will walk to the bus stop and destroy it," fumes Dr. David G. Armstrong of the Southern Arizona Limb Salvage Alliance.

Limb-salvage experts say many of the 80,000-plus amputations of toes, feet and lower legs that diabetics undergo each year are preventable if only patients got the right care for their feet. Yet they’re frustrated that so few do until they’re already on what’s called the stairway to amputation, suffering escalating foot problems because of a combination of ignorance–among patients and doctors–and payment hassles.

"There’s no magic medicine right now for the diabetic foot," says specialist Dr. Lawrence Lavery of Texas A&M University, who bemoans that simple-but-effective preventive care just isn’t attention-getting.

"People come in (saying), ‘Hey, my wife noticed a bloody trail today as I was walking across the linoleum in the kitchen. What should I do?’"

President Barack Obama got a drubbing from surgeons this month after a confusing comment about how they’re paid for foot amputations that cost $30,000 or more. That tab is the total cost, including hospitalization; surgeon fees range from about $750 to $1,000.

Obama’s larger argument: Better payment for early-stage diabetes treatment, or even care to prevent diabetes, could save the nation money.

The money part’s hard to prove but it’s a lot of misery saved if it’s your foot, and the spat highlights a huge problem.

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