Diabetes is contributing to the high cost of health care | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Diabetes is contributing to the high cost of health care

Jason Eberhart-Phillips

If you or your employer are paying a lot more for health insurance this year, you aren’t alone.

Health-care spending is rising at the fastest rate in history, at about double the underlying rate of inflation. Since 2000, health-insurance premiums have increased 87 percent, while average wages have grown by just 20 percent in the same period.

Not surprisingly, workers are being asked to pay a larger share of health-care costs. Their contribution to employer-sponsored health insurance has shot up 143 percent since 2000.

Why are the costs for health care so out-of-control? There are many reasons, but one is the rapidly increasing number of people with diabetes.

Diabetes once was a rare disease, but nowadays at least 24 million Americans have it, or approximately 14,000 people in El Dorado County. The population with diabetes grows by about 1 million people each year in the United States.

If current trends continue, one child in three born today will develop diabetes at some time in their lives.

That sobering fact presents a public-health challenge of immense proportions, because diabetes often is a difficult disease to live with and manage. The complications of diabetes, which include kidney disease, eye disease and heart disease, are serious and can be life-threatening.

Diabetes also is an expensive disease. A new analysis shows that among those with diagnosed diabetes, annual medical expenditures average $11,744 per year, of which more than half can be directly attributed to diabetes itself.

With the growing number of diabetics in the population, the nation now spends about $174 billion each year treating diabetes – costs that are 32 percent higher than they were in 2002. With health insurers picking up most of that expense, can it be any wonder why employer-sponsored premiums are getting bigger?

The situation is simply unsustainable. The mounting burden of diabetes demands that we pay greater attention to prevention. That’s where public health comes in.

Not all diabetes is preventable, but most cases of Type 2 diabetes – the type that typically appears in adulthood – are preventable if people eat right and remain physically active to avoid obesity. Type 2 accounts for about 95 percent of new cases.

Public-health professionals have a vital role in educating people about diabetes prevention, teaching them how to eat a healthier diet and engage in more physical activity. But our work must go beyond that: We also are here to advocate for ways that make it easier for people to make the right choices about factors that affect their health, factors such as what they eat and how they can stay active.

For El Dorado County, such advocacy might focus on how we design our communities to build in more physical activity, with more sidewalks, bike paths and mixed-use development that cuts down on automobile dependence. It might mean working with businesses, community groups, schools and other government agencies to improve access to healthy foods and discourage eating that adds excess calories.

The payoffs for such an ounce of prevention are more than a pound of cure. If we can cut only 10 to 20 pounds off the weight of every overweight adult, we can slash the incidence of diabetes in this county by 60 percent and save millions of dollars in health-care costs.

The diabetes time bomb is ticking. If together we can control obesity, we can reverse the diabetes epidemic and lower the nation’s health-care bill. If not, the burden of this disease will only worsen.

– Jason Eberhart-Phillips, M.D., is the El Dorado County health officer. He can be reached at jeberhart-phillips@edcgov.us.

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