“We are spending as much on diabetes as we are on the entire Department of Education.” That statement, from Dana Haza, a senior director for the National Changing Diabetes Program (NCDP) is an eye-opener. The numbers are staggering. 12% of the government health-care budget in 2005 was spent on treating diabetes. And a recent study found that the spending on medications used to treat diabetes would likely increase by at least 60% from 2006 to 2009. 60% in just three years. And the starting number is not exactly small. Diabetes medication sales were at $9.88 billion in the US in 2005.
Here in Colorado, 4.8% of the adult population has diabetes, well below the national average of 7.3%. Colorado also has the nation’s lowest rate of obesity, so it’s not surprising that the diabetes epidemic has not hit Colorado as hard as it has the rest of the country. But if even the least-obese state in the nation has 4.8% of its residents suffering from diabetes (plus all the other people who have diabetes and don’t know it yet), the problem is huge. The NCDP is pushing to get a coordinated government effort to deal with the diabetes crisis, so that the various government programs that impact health care would have a unified plan for preventing and treating diabetes and the complications that stem from diabetes.
The health insurance industry also needs to get much more involved with prevention of diabetes. Once it gets to the treatment stage, the health insurance companies are on the losing end of the battle, since they’re on the hook for the projected $15 billion that will be spent in the US on diabetes drugs alone in 2009. That’s in addition to all the testing supplies, doctor visits, and hospitalizations that go along with a diabetes diagnosis. With such dire predictions from the medical world, it seems that the health insurance industry would be wise to invest a lot more time and money on diabetes prevention now. The number one factor that needs to be addressed is obesity. Health insurance companies need to be taking a much more proactive stance in terms of heading off diabetes before symptoms occur. Losing excess pounds, moderate exercise, and improved diet are the three main factors that people have control over when it comes to preventing diabetes. We don’t all have to become marathon runners who never eat sugar in order to bring down the rate of diabetes. But we do need to take more walks and stop eating 3 bearclaws for breakfast every day. Health insurance companies could be sending doctors or nurses to give presentations at work for employees covered on their policies. They could go a step further and have the health care providers run clinics and testing every few months for all the employees, providing them with information about their weight, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. Keeping the numbers right there in front of people on a routine basis would prevent out-of-sight, out-of-mind syndrome. These clinics and labs and presentations would cost the insurance company money of course. But it would likely be less than the amount they’re going to be spending on full-blown diabetes as the number of cases increases dramatically over the next few years.