Nutritional deficiencies can sometimes be corrected with prescription vitamins and supplements. As always, Medicare coverage comes down to medical necessity and FDA approval.
These days, most people seem to be taking some sort of vitamin or supplement. Your healthcare provider may recommend vitamins or supplements to correct a deficiency. But for many, it's just something they've always done – especially with how hard it can be to get the recommended daily doses from diet alone.
On this page, we look at diagnosing vitamin deficiency and your Medicare coverage for vitamins and supplements. Let's get started.
Are there signs of vitamin deficiency?
Most of us learn we're deficient in a particular vitamin after our doctor orders blood work. But the most common nutrient deficiencies often have symptoms – if you know what to look for.
Calcium deficiency signs include a numbness or tingling in your fingers. You may also experience an abnormal heart rhythm. Healthy adults need 1,000 mg of calcium per day. Dairy products are, of course, great sources of calcium, but you'll also find it in dark, leafy greens like broccoli and kale.
If you have a vitamin D deficiency, signs are a bit more vague but may still be noticeable. These include bone pain, muscle aches, fatigue, mood changes, and weakness. Of course, vitamin D is vital to bone health, so you raise your risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures if you don't get enough of this crucial nutrient through diet and sun exposure. (Learn more in our article: To Vitamin D or Not to D.)
Without enough potassium in your diet, you run the risk of constipation, irregular heart rhythm, and muscle weakness. That's because potassium keeps your heart, muscles, and nerves working properly while also helping your body remove waste.
Iron deficiency is also known as anemia. It has several symptoms, but the most common ones are brittle nails, cold hands and feet, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Vegetarians and vegans are at higher risk of anemia than meat-eaters are, but filling up on beans, lentils, and leafy greens like spinach helps.
Vegans are also at greater risk of vitamin B12 deficiency simply because you cannot get this nutrient from anything but animals and animal products (like cheese, yogurt, and cow's milk). Signs of a B12 deficiency include fatigue, numbness, and a swollen tongue. You can learn about Medicare's coverage for B12 shots here.
Other common signs of vitamin deficiency include:
- Changes to your hair, including excessive thinning and brittleness
- Fingernails breaking and splitting easily
- Vision changes, particularly at night, and whitish spots on the eye
- Skin issues, including scaly patches and red bumps
- Fatigue and muscle weakness
- Dizziness, shortness of breath, and irregular heart rhythms
- Mental changes like confusion, mood, and forgetfulness
If you notice any of these signs, schedule an appointment with your doctor and explain your concerns. Your healthcare provider can help you determine the cause as well as the best treatment.
Original Medicare coverage for vitamins and supplements
When it comes to over-the-counter items like vitamins and supplements, Original Medicare doesn't provide coverage. Medicare Part A helps pay for inpatient care, such as you'd receive in a hospital or nursing home. Outpatient services are provided by Medicare Part B, including doctor appointments, lab work, mental health care, and more.
Neither Part A nor Part B covers prescription medications, either. So, they won't apply if your doctor prescribes self-administered vitamins or supplements.
When does Medicare Part B cover vitamins?
If you have diabetes, kidney disease, or had a kidney transplant within the past 36 months, Medicare Part B covers nutrition therapy services – assuming your doctor referred you.
Nutrition therapy services begin with a nutrition and lifestyle assessment. From there, your provider will determine whether you need individual or group nutritional therapy services and what lifestyle changes can help.
A registered dietician or qualified nutritionist must provide medical nutrition therapy services for Medicare to cover them. And if your treatment includes either injections or infusions of vitamin supplements, Part B applies.
Does Medicare Part D cover vitamins and supplements?
Medicare Part D provides prescription drug coverage. You can get it through either a standalone Part D drug plan or a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan (MA-PD).
As with Part C, these plans are sold by private insurance companies, so coverage varies according to your plan and provider. You can easily see the medications covered, though, by reviewing the plan's drug formulary. And you can estimate your out-of-pocket for the medication by seeing which tier your plan places it on. The higher the tier, the higher your copayment or coinsurance will be.
Vitamins Medicare may cover
Medicare coverage for just about every service comes down to medical necessity and FDA approval. In other words, if your doctor says the treatment is needed and the FDA has approved said treatment for the condition, Medicare will likely cover it.
Vitamin supplementation coverage may include:
- Calcium and vitamin D, as both have been proved to improve bone density
- The FDA approved prescription niacin to treat dyslipidemia
- Prenatal vitamins and similar supplements prescribed to pregnant women
- Prescribed fluoride preparations
As always, talk to your healthcare provider about Medicare coverage for any treatment they recommend.
Does Medicare Part C cover vitamins?
More commonly known as Medicare Advantage, Part C includes all the benefits you get with Parts A and B, with most plans providing additional coverage as well.
Around three-quarters of Medicare Advantage plans offer OTC benefits. This typically means a debit card that your plan loads with funds monthly, quarterly, or yearly. The amount varies according to the plan you choose, but most plans allow you to use these funds for over-the-counter items like vitamins, supplements, cold medicine, and more.
Most Advantage plans also include Part D prescription drug coverage. As with a standalone Medicare Part D plan, you need to look at the drug formulary to see which prescription medications the plan covers.
What does Medigap cover?
Medicare Supplement Insurance, more commonly known as Medigap, helps cover your out-of-pocket costs when you have Original Medicare. These insurance plans don't provide additional coverage like Advantage plans do. And they won't pay for services not covered by Medicare. But, if Medicare covers the item, most Medigap plans cover your Part B coinsurance once you've met the yearly deductible.
Learn more with our Ultimate Guide to Medigap. And to compare Medicare plans, why not give our Find a Plan tool a go? Just enter your zip code to start reviewing the costs and benefits of Medicare Advantage, Medigap, and Part D plans in your area. Don't forget to review the drug formulary to be sure it includes your medications!
You can also call us toll-free at 888-992-0738 and one of our licensed agents will answer your Medicare questions and help you choose the right type of coverage for your individual needs.