Combating Type 1 diabetes requires long-term funding

Combating Type 1 diabetes requires long-term funding
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With long-term spending bills influx on Capitol Hill, I’m concerned about critical health programs that have only received short-term fixes.

Among these is the Special Diabetes Program (SDP), which is dedicated to federal funding for Type 1 diabetes research and for prevention and management programs in Native American populations that are most disproportionately impacted by Type 2 diabetes.

More than 30 million Americans have diabetes and an additional 84 million are at increased risk for developing diabetes. Pre-diabetes, diabetes and the deadly complications that can follow cost the United States an estimated $322 billion per year.  


For the past 20 years both components of SDP have led to tremendous progress for people with or at risk for diabetes. It shows that a modest federal investment can lead to improved health, lower health care costs and drive us closer to the cure that will eventually put an end to Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults.

More than 15 percent of Native Americans have diabetes — a prevalence higher than any other race or ethnicity. Focused interventions in tribal communities via SDP have been critical in helping to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes and associated health problems.

SDP interventions in native populations have resulted in a significant drop — 54 percent—in kidney failure between 1996 and 2003. Kidney failure, one of the most dangerous complications of diabetes, is also one of the greatest cost drivers to the Medicare program.

We simply cannot abandon programs that have resulted in these tangible results to our nation’s physical and fiscal health. In the time since SDP was established by Congress in 1997, native communities have also seen decreased rates of diabetic eye disease, which can lead to blindness, and the prevalence of diabetes in native adults has not risen since 2011.

Equally critical is SDP research at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) that has led to important breakthroughs in treatment, management, and to real progress towards a cure for Type 1 diabetes. SDP-funded research has led to major advances in technology that helps individuals with diabetes manage their disease safely, including continuous glucose monitoring.  

Delays and breaks in funding limit NIDDK’s ability to fund new research and put advances at risk, delaying the long-awaited cure for this difficult disease.  

Allowing SDP to expire would reverse 20 years of progress and drive us deeper into a dangerous epidemic. Recently, 41 past presidents and the Chief Scientific, Medical & Mission Office of the American Diabetes Association wrote to Congress to demand urgent, long-term renewal of SDP. This was an unprecedented act of united support for this program that has not been necessary in the past. SDP has never lacked support from the advocacy community or in Congress.

I was proud to endorse the program as a Congressman and in 2016, 356 members of the House of Representatives and 75 Senators signed letters in support of SDP. Despite overwhelming success and support SDP funding is now at grave risk. Congress must reauthorize SDP as part of the February 8th Continuing Resolution and include language that allows the funding to remain available until it is expended.

Over my years of practice as an ob/gyn, I had many patients who were diagnosed with gestational diabetes, which increases the risk for both the mother and child in developing Type 2 diabetes later in life. All mothers want to give their children the best possible start in life, and although gestational diabetes is manageable, it’s scary for patients to receive this news. Diabetes has no cure and people who live with it have to manage the disease on a daily basis.

It involves constantly balancing the nutrition of meals and blood glucose monitoring, which can be physically and emotionally tough at times. Children and young adults with Type 1 have to learn how to manage the disease from an early age.

I hope that they will see an end to this disease before they become adults. If we can continue to commit dollars to research and programs to find a cure, we can eradicate the disease completely for future generations.

SDP funding for critical Type 1 research has already been significantly delayed and programs in native communities may have to close their doors to patients in true need of these services. I ask my friends in Congress to follow through on their promise to invest in this critical program immediately.

Philip Gingrey, M.D., is a former U.S. Congressman who served Georgia's 11th congressional district from 2003 to 2015. He is currently a senior adviser with the District Policy Group at Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, whose clients include the American Diabetes Association.