Diabetes is a group of metabolic diseases that inhibits a person’s ability to produce insulin – a hormone that regulates the amount of glucose found in blood – and can lead to serious cardiac and kidney issues, as well as blindness. Unfortunately the rate of diagnosis for this chronic illness is on the rise, according to the American Diabetes Association. In 2010, 25.8 million Americans suffered from diabetes; that number soared to 29.1 million in 2012. This is attributable to increased prevalence of obesity, in addition to the fact that people are living longer.
For someone with diabetes, the strain isn’t just physical, it’s also financial. Between 2007 and 2012, the ADA reported the costs associated with diabetes treatment jumped 41 percent, from $174 billion to $245 billion – approximately $13,700 annually per person. By the end of the decade, projections show pre-diabetes and diabetes care will account for 10 percent of healthcare costs overall.
Since diabetes can strike both young and old, many employers end up shouldering this financial burden as well, both directly and indirectly. Of the $245 billion spent in 2012, $176 billion went to the direct cost of healthcare, while $69 billion is the valuation of lost workforce productivity.
There are three steps employers can take, however, to combat the impact of diabetes.
A 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than 25 percent of Americans with diabetes didn’t even know they had it. Because of this, employers should go out of their way to implement a diabetes screening process for employees and dependents on the health plan – a basic blood finger stick test is an effective, low-cost option. Not only will this help those who may be already feeling the impact of their illness get the care they need, but it will also identify those with pre-diabetes, a precursor to diabetes.
Even though a person might have pre-diabetes, they may never become afflicted with diabetes. In fact, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study showing that a modest 7 percent weight loss in an individual decreased their chances of progressing from pre-diabetes to diabetes by 58 percent. Employers can help prevent the onset of diabetes in these plan members by encouraging their participation in workplace wellness programs that promote a healthy lifestyle through exercise and a balanced, nutritious diet.
A passive healthcare approach to diabetes care is not an option. Those who have been diagnosed must actively control blood sugar levels and receive routine preventative care to avoid the serious complications associated with this condition. With proper medical care, individuals with diabetes will not only be in better health, both they and their employer will benefit from reduced healthcare costs overall. Implementation of programs, such as Worksite Health Clinics, that put a greater emphasis on preventative treatment and value-based care, can be an effective way to tackle diabetes in your employee population.
The impact of diabetes will be felt across the healthcare industry for years to come. But if employers are willing to be proactive in the face of this epidemic, they will not only be able to manage the increasing cost of diabetes care, they will also be seen as a wellness ally to their employees.