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The Growing Expenses of Diabetes: Exploring the Mounting Challenges

Diabetes is a chronic disease that impacts how the body turns sugar into energy. A healthy pancreas releases insulin, which helps to convert the glucose in your bloodstream into fuel for your cells. An unhealthy pancreas struggles to release insulin, which means the glucose stays in the blood, wreaking havoc on various body parts. 

In the United States, over 11 percent of the population — 37. 3 million people — currently have diabetes. Almost half of all adults 65 and older are pre-diabetic, meaning they have higher than normal blood sugar levels. 

Over time, diabetes can cause other serious health conditions, such as kidney disease, vision loss, and heart disease. The cost of these piling health problems, on top of the stress, can be devastating. Read on to learn more about the financial strain that diabetes has on individuals and the nation as a whole. 

Individual Cost of Diabetes

Diabetes patients spend roughly $16,700 yearly for medical expenses, with $9,600 of that for diabetes supplies alone. One study suggested that a person who transitioned from pre-diabetes to diabetes spends around $2,700 more yearly than someone without diabetes. 

Insulin, which can be several hundred dollars for a single vial, is the most expensive component of diabetes care. These monthly expenses can put a significant financial strain on diabetic individuals, especially since the average person needs two to three vials per month.

People with diabetes often suffer from additional health conditions — such as problems with their heart, nerve damage, and kidney disease — adding even more healthcare expenses. In fact, 48% to 64% of lifetime medical costs for people with diabetes are attributed to diabetes-related conditions.

National Cost of Diabetes

With over 37 million individuals diagnosed with diabetes, the condition is fairly common in the United States. Millions more are pre-diabetic. Diabetes is the most expensive chronic condition in the country. Overall, the nation spends $237 billion dollars on direct medical costs for diabetes and another $90 billion for reduced productivity.

The average cost of treating diabetes and diabetes-related conditions for Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 and older is nearly $6,000 per person each year. The U.S. government pays 67% of these costs through Medicare, Medicaid, and the military — and 30.7% is covered by private insurance companies. Uninsured people pay the remaining 3%. 

There is also an economic impact on people that can’t afford their medical bills. Emergency rooms are required to treat patients no matter their ability to pay, and unpaid medical bills end up in collections. These unpaid bills damage the individual’s credit score and negatively impact the money circulating throughout the community. 

Financial Impact of Diabetes on Different Populations

The financial impact of diabetes varies by demographic. Compared with insured diabetic patients, uninsured people with diabetes go to 60% fewer office visits and are prescribed 52% fewer medications. However, these individuals account for 168% more emergency room visits than their insured counterparts. 

Non-Hispanic Black people pay the most for diabetes care, averaging $10,470 annually. They also go to the emergency room 65% more than the diabetic population as a whole. Hispanic people with diabetes pay around $8,050 per person out of pocket for diabetes care. Non-Hispanic White people spend approximately $9,800 per person for their diabetes care. Generally speaking, men pay more for their diabetes care than women.

California, Texas, Florida, and New York are the states with the largest populations of diabetes patients and, therefore, the highest spending on the disease. 

Medicare Coverage of Diabetes

Medicare Part B covers outpatient services necessary for diabetes patients, plus services to aid in diabetes prevention. Benefits include two diabetes screenings per year and a meeting with a professional to discuss healthier lifestyle habits for prevention. Part B also covers training classes to teach good monitoring habits for those diagnosed with or at risk of complications from diabetes. This also provides monitors, test strips, lancets, and lancet devices.

Medicare Part D, which provides drug coverage, covers tools used to inhale or inject insulin. Tools can include syringes, alcohol swabs, needles, or inhaled insulin devices. 

As of January 1, 2023, due to the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act, insulin is now capped at $35 a month for Medicare beneficiaries. In 2025 the act will also put a $2,000 cap on yearly spending for individuals with Medicare Part D, which will greatly benefit individuals suffering from diabetes-related conditions.

Emotional Cost of Diabetes

For people with diabetes, the cost of the disease is not just measured in dollars. They often face concerns about other health conditions related to their illness. Those who struggle to control their diagnosis are at risk of losing their eyesight, fingers, toes, and other limbs. Diabetes patients also have to worry about heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and more.

The additional financial hardship of paying for insulin and medical supplies every month also contributes to overall stress. When you’re stressed, your body releases hormones that can actually interfere with your insulin production — causing additional problems with your diabetes. Moderating your emotions and stress when dealing with a major medical diagnosis can be difficult, but it’s an important part of disease management. 

Diabetes patients may also face reduced productivity if their disease interferes with their work, experiencing higher rates of absence for medical appointments or other health reasons. 

The Future Cost of Diabetes

The cost of diabetes care rose by 26% from 2012 to 2017, from $245 billion to $327 billion. If the upward trend of medical costs for diabetes continues, we can expect the totals for 2022/2023 to be close to $400 billion.  

The Institute for Alternative Futures looks at past trends to predict future ones. In 2017, they forecasted that the projected spending for diabetes care would increase to over $622 billion annually between 2015 and 2030. This cost is a 53% increase over diabetes care in 2017. 

Diabetes diagnoses are also predicted to increase by 54% during that same time. Overall, the Institute predicts annual deaths due to diabetes and diabetes complications to increase by 38% to 385,8000 deaths per year by 2030.

Preventing or Managing Diabetes

There is no way to prevent Type 1 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, however, is mainly diagnosed later in life and usually follows a warning in the form of a pre-diabetes diagnosis. 

The best way to prevent or manage a diabetes diagnosis is to establish a healthier, more active lifestyle. While a lifestyle change all at once can be overwhelming, the best place to start is by taking one step at a time.

  • Lose extra weight. Talk to your doctor about the best approach for losing weight. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that pre-diabetic patients lose 7-10% of their body weight to better manage their diagnosis. 
  • Eat healthy. Add more fiber-rich, plant-based meals to your diet. Minimize processed food, sugar, and saturated fats.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise can lower your blood sugar, help you lose weight, and boost your sensitivity to insulin. Start with walking around your neighborhood or low-impact activities like swimming.

Beyond these tips, the most important thing is to see your doctor regularly and communicate your concerns and questions. They can advise you on the steps to take to manage your diabetes or prevent a diagnosis.

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