Managing diabetes is expensive — it's time to step up our game
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More than 29 million Americans have diabetes — but a staggering quarter of them don't know it.  That needs to change. When diabetes isn't controlled, patients face increased risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, and even amputation.

Policymakers in Washington should acknowledge this national health crisis and move quickly in the new year to address it. People with diabetes need a proper diagnosis and access to the quality, affordable healthcare.

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Washington has already taken some important steps. Medicare, for example, covers diabetes screenings.  That action has helped patients identify whether they're at high risk for developing the disease.

This year, federal officials also announced that Medicare will cover the National Diabetes Prevention Program, a network of lifestyle intervention plans aiming to lower diabetes risk in pre-diabetic individuals.  Nearly a third of Americans overall and close to half of seniors are pre-diabetic.  

The total cost of diagnosed diabetes for the nation is a $245 billion in medical care and lost productivity.  Prevention saves patients and the government money. During a 15-month period of the prevention program, Medicare saved $2,650 for each enrollee.

Improved diagnosis and prevention programs are vitally important, but the nation is also falling behind in managing diabetes in current sufferers.

Such complications as stroke, blindness and kidney failure are an especially big problem in America's minority communities. Non-Hispanic Blacks in the United States, for example,  are more than twice as likely to die from diabetes as non-Hispanic Whites.  

To ensure diabetes patients have access to healthcare, they must also have access to quality health insurance. In too many cases, they do not.

A recent survey revealed that six out of ten diabetes patients believe their health insurance coverage is on the wrong track. They are worried about the affordability of care due to high out-of-pocket costs and coverage limitations.  

Plus, more than four in 10 report that their out-of-pocket costs have increased in the past twelve months for premiums, deductibles, prescription medicine copays, doctor visit copays, and other services.

Higher out-of-pocket costs for insulin is particularly problematic since they could lead patients to skip crucial injections. Front-line reports from doctors reveal that patients are rationing their shots because they're too expensive.  Some have even ended up in the ICU for that very reason. That's not only bad for the patients themselves; it's also a drain on the healthcare budget.  When a diabetes patient is admitted to the hospital for complications, it costs an average of $9,000.

This kind of poor diabetes management cannot persist. While the United States has made much headway against the chronic disease, our country is capable of doing much better. To make living with diabetes more manageable, lawmakers need to make sure insurance premiums, co-pays, deductibles, and other out-of-pocket costs remain affordable. 

Kenneth Thorpe is professor of health policy at Emory University and chairman of the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease.


The views expressed by the contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.