Reversing a hidden epidemic with a new model of care

It’s clear the traditional approaches to combating diabetes aren’t working. New solutions and additional funding by Congress are needed now to engage at-risk populations earlier and more effectively to address this public health challenge.

The good news is that we have a solution. Our two organizations, the YMCA of the USA and UnitedHealth Group, have recently joined forces to launch a first-of-its-kind, evidence-based diabetes prevention program that has been proven to prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes by more than half.

This newly formed Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance reveals what is possible when new approaches to old problems are embraced. The Alliance’s key features include the ability to identify individuals with diabetes and pre-diabetes at the earliest possible stage, and it marks the first time a health plan will pay for evidence-based diabetes prevention and control programs centered on performance.

The Alliance uses advanced analytical tools and data including medical and pharmacy claims, laboratory data, demographic and other data to screen populations at high risk for undiagnosed diabetes and pre-diabetes; reaching out to engage them to participate in the program through their local Y.
Once they’re signed up, in a group setting a trained lifestyle coach from the Y teaches participants how to eat healthier, lose weight and increase their physical activity. After the initial 16 sessions are completed, participants meet monthly for added support to help them maintain their progress.  Our approach is based on earlier research by the National Institutes of Health and Indiana University that found that lifestyle changes and moderate weight loss lead to a 58 percent reduction in diabetes risk.

It’s estimated that for every 100 high-risk adults who participate, fifteen cases of diabetes and $91,400 in health care costs are avoided. According to the Urban Institute, implementing community-based diabetes intervention programs through the Y nationwide could save $191 billion over the next ten years.

Today, Congress and the federal government have an unprecedented opportunity to take what we have started and bring it to communities across the country. Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa),  have urged the Department of Health and Human Services and Congress to provide $80 million this year to help fund community efforts like ours to halt this growing health threat. The money will be used to support a national training and recognition program for community-based diabetes prevention programs, fund the start-up costs of community-based delivery networks, and expand public education and awareness campaigns.

It’s not too late to uncover this hidden epidemic and improve the quality of life for millions of Americans. Expanding proven diabetes prevention programs nationwide will promote prevention, provide access to quality care and services, control costs, encourage healthier lifestyles choices and loosen the grip that diabetes has on our citizens, our health care system and our future.

Lynne Vaughn is the senior vice president of Strategic Innovation, YMCA of the USA.

Deneen Vojta, MD,  is a pediatrician and chief clinical officer of the Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance, UnitedHealth Group.