The Obama administration said Wednesday it may expand an experimental diabetes-prevention project sponsored by Sen. Al Franken after a pilot study showed it improved the health of older patients and could save Medicare millions of dollars.

The Diabetes Preventive Program (DPP), aimed at senior citizens who are at risk of becoming diabetic, has been certified for expansion under the huge Medicare program on the strength of the pilot project, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell announced Wednesday. It would be the first preventive services project from the government's health care Innovation Center to be approved for expansion into Medicare, which covers 44 million Americans.

Diabetes afflicts roughly 30 million people in the United States, killing two people every five minutes and driving billions of dollars of costs in Medicare and the overall U.S. health care system.

As a result of the pilot program, Burwell said, 70 percent of prediabetic participants older than 60 avoided the disease, saving Medicare roughly $2,600 for each patient enrolled.

Speaking in Minneapolis on Wednesday, Franken said the expansion would be "a huge day in prevention.''

"This improves people's health outcomes and it saves people a lot of money," he said during a news conference at Hennepin County Medical Center.

"This is something that works, [and] that's why we put it in the ACA."

About 80 million Americans are prediabetic, Franken said, but most don't know it.

In 2010, Franken and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., secured increased funding for the DPP as part of the Affordable Care Act, which is also known as Obamacare. An HHS review found that changes in diet and exercise led to a sharp decline in the number of pre-diabetics who actually developed the disease.

'Improves people's lives'

Franken said he became interested when the YMCA in St. Paul became a part of the original program several years ago.

In the Twin Cities, about 2,300 people participate in the DPP pilot program through the YMCA.

After a year, participants lost about 5 pounds on average, or enough to substantially lower the risk of diabetes.

In a Hennepin County Medical Center study, 100 participants also reduced their chances of developing type 2 diabetes. At the end of the study, the majority of enrollees had lost weight and lowered their glucose levels, which, when elevated, can be an indicator for the disease's onset.

Details on the expansion will be released this summer by HHS.

"This is something that improves people's lives, saves money, [and] makes them feel healthier," Franken said.

"I'm getting goose bumps now, because you don't always get that to happen."

Youssef Rddad is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.