What we eat always matters. But as you age, getting the right nutrients and maintaining a healthy diet becomes more important—especially if you’re managing one or multiple health conditions. 

Nutrition isn’t always straightforward. You may find it helpful to get support from a licensed nutritionist to find the right diet for your health needs and goals. Medicare doesn’t always cover the cost of nutrition therapy, but it does cover these services if you meet one of the following conditions:

  • You have diabetes (type 1 and 2)

  • You have chronic kidney disease

  • You’ve had a kidney transplant in the last 36 months

In this guide we’ll discuss which nutritional services are covered by Medicare, how Medicare covers the services, and alternatives to nutrition therapy if you aren’t eligible for coverage.

Key takeaways:

  • Medical nutrition therapy helps you create a plan to manage or prevent nutrition-related health issues.

  • Medicare covers medical nutrition therapy from a registered dietician (RD) or other nutrition expert if you have diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or had a kidney transplant in the last 36 months.

  • For Medicare to cover the service for a nutritionist, you’ll have to get a doctor’s referral.

What are medical nutrition therapy services?

Medical nutrition therapy (MNT) services involve the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of nutrition-related issues and diseases. Typically, registered dietitians (RDs) or other nutrition specialists work with healthcare providers to develop personalized nutrition plans that are tailored to your specific needs. 

Nutrition therapy focuses on strategies to manage or prevent medical conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and renal diseases. The goal is to improve your nutritional habits and overall health through dietary recommendations, education, and behavioral changes. Some examples of MNT services include: 

  • Meal planning for managing diabetes 

  • Dietary changes to reduce saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium intake for cardiovascular diseases

  • Controlling electrolyte balance for kidney function

Medicare coverage for nutritionists

If you're managing diabetes, have chronic kidney disease, or had a kidney transplant in the last 36 months, Medicare covers nutrition management services. With Original Medicare, Part B covers visits to nutrition experts, like registered dieticians. 

If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, you’ll also get the same coverage as Original Medicare for a nutritionist with the same eligibility criteria. Because Medicare Advantage plans work through private, Medicare-approved insurance companies, there are different rules for networks, coinsurance, copayments, and deductibles. It’s important to check with your insurance and healthcare providers before seeing a nutritionist to be sure you understand what your costs will be. 

To get nutrition counseling covered by Medicare, you need a referral from a medical doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathy (DO). A registered dietician or other nutrition expert will typically work with your doctor to provide this referral if you are eligible for coverage.

What services does Medicare cover from a nutritionist?

Depending on your health status, Medicare will cover the following services for nutritional changes or management:

  • An initial nutrition and lifestyle assessment

  • Individual and/or group nutritional therapy services

  • Help managing the lifestyle factors that affect your diabetes

  • Follow-up visits to check on your diet management progress

When you first begin nutrition therapy, you’ll meet with a registered dietician or other nutrition professional. In this meeting, your nutritionist will check on your health and habits, set goals with you, teach you about how your body reacts to certain foods, and make a plan specific to you. Your nutritionist will then schedule follow-up visits to check in on your progress and adjust your plan to meet any changing needs.

Two things to keep in mind if you have diabetes or if you’re on dialysis treatment:

  • If you have diabetes, you’ll have access to diabetes self-management training, a Medicare-covered service that teaches you how to manage your diabetes.

  • If you are treated for kidney conditions with dialysis in a dialysis facility, Medicare covers medical nutrition therapy services as part of your overall dialysis care.

Finding a nutritionist through telehealth 

If you live far from a nutritionist or can’t visit one in person, Medicare will cover telehealth appointments. This means you can meet with a registered dietician through online video calls.

Other ways to cover the costs of a nutritionist 

Medicare’s coverage for a nutritionist can be limiting since it only applies to certain health conditions. If you're struggling with weight management or need support with cardiovascular disease prevention, for example, you won't get the nutrition support you need covered by your Medicare insurance. 

While Medicare doesn't directly cover a nutritionist for most people, there are other ways you can receive nutrition support.

Medicare’s annual wellness visits: Your doctor will provide personalized health advice during your annual wellness visit, which is a free preventive service for Medicare beneficiaries. Some of this advice could include diet and exercise planning that can benefit your nutrition. 

Private insurance: If you’re still working and receiving private insurance through your job or other means, it might cover nutrition therapy.

Medicaid: Some state Medicaid programs cover nutrition services.

Self-payment: If you can't get coverage, you can choose to pay for nutritionist services out of pocket. Some nutritionists may offer discounts for self-payment.

Community health programs: Check with community health centers; they might provide group or individual nutrition education and therapy programs.

Understanding whether Medicare covers a nutritionist is an important step in developing a nutrition plan. If you have more questions about what your Medicare plan covers or how you can save money on healthcare costs, reach out to one of our licensed Advisors for free, personalized information. Get started today by calling 855-900-2427 or scheduling a time to chat.

Get Medicare, Maximized