To fix the budget, address diabetes

Indeed, one of the first steps toward fixing our budgetary issues is to focus on curbing the health care costs associated with these conditions.  And, there aren’t many efforts that can make a bigger impact on health care costs than expanding programs that have proven successful at stopping the incredible expansion of highly preventable and manageable diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.

One out of every eight dollars the U.S. government spends on healthcare goes to provide care for people with type 2 diabetes. The large majority of that spending is not for drugs to treat diabetes, but for the complications that come when patients aren’t able to manage it effectively – serving as the gateway to blindness, heart attacks, strokes, liver disease and other serious impacts. 

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The growing diabetes epidemic is a key driver of the skyrocketing Medicare and Medicaid costs that make the budget problems so hard to solve, making the funding of successful prevention efforts like the National Diabetes Prevention Program (NDPP) a priority. 

The NDPP is a 16-week program at a local YMCA or other organization that reaches people with prediabetes or who are at higher risk for developing the disease. As evidenced by clinical studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health, participants in the program who receive coaching to improve their eating and exercise habits can avoid the onset of diabetes.

The NDPP can delay or prevent the onset of diabetes by 58 percent overall and over 70 percent in seniors. A 2011 Health Affairs study affirmed that Medicare could save $2 billion over 10 years if the NDPP is offered to all seniors aged 60-64, and another study indicates that a Medicare and Medicaid benefit would save up to $174 billion over the next decade. Most importantly, millions of families across the country would be spared the fear of the serious health complications untreated diabetes can bring with it.

Currently, the NDPP operates at over 600 sites around the country, with involvement from organizations like YMCA of the USA, the Centers for Disease Control, and private sector sponsors like Novo Nordisk, and others. But more needs to be done to make it available to the tens of millions of Americans who are at risk for diabetes. 

We applaud the Senate Appropriations Committee and its vote last week to fund $10 million to the NDPP for next year – funding that will go a long way toward expanding the program’s reach.

Diabetes is a genuine public health crisis for America and the world. According to the Changing Diabetes Barometer (www.changingdiabetesbarometer.com), there are now nearly 26 million Americans with diabetes, and an additional 79 million with prediabetes.

Bending the curve on type 2 diabetes will require everyone in the health care system to play their part, including patients, providers, and health insurers alike. But, there should be no mistaking that Congress has a role to play as well, and that the rewards for them doing so are significant.

For the health of our country and our budget, Congress must continue to support successful prevention and wellness efforts – from the Prevention and Public Health Fund to disease-specific programs like the NDPP. Despite our fiscal challenges, it is too shortsighted for Congress to ignore the human and economic toll that preventable and manageable diseases have on our country. The equation is simple: investing in prevention in the short-term equals savings in the long-term.

Daschle is now a senior policy adviser at DLA Piper, LLP (US) and Castle is now a partner at DLA Piper, LLP (US). DLA Piper's clients include Novo Nordisk, a global health care company that focuses on diabetes care.