The Economic Burden of Diabetes in the U.S.

By Kristie Gurley (JD ’15)

A recent study conducted by the IHS Life Sciences economic consulting group highlighted the staggering economic impact of diabetes in the United States: in 2012, we spent $244 billion to treat the disease. This number is even higher when we account for loss of productivity from those with diabetes, which brings the total up to $322 billion.

Reporting on the study, NPR highlighted the increasing number of people across the nation who have diabetes or will soon develop diabetes: “About 29 million people have been diagnosed with diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 8 million of them haven’t yet been diagnosed. Another 86 million, or 37 percent of adults, have prediabetes.” This is an astonishing number of Americans, and it bears repeating: more than half of all adults in the United States either have diabetes or will soon have diabetes without intervention.

The number of affected individuals appears stark in the context of the individual economic burden of diabetes, which averages at $10,970 per year. Because of incidence disparities, the cost will vary across states:

West Virginia had the highest rate of people diagnosed with diabetes, at 10 percent. Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi all posted rates over 8 percent. Alaska had the lowest diabetes rates in 2012, at 4.2 percent, followed by Utah, Colorado, Montana and Vermont, all under 5 percent.

We can hope that the report on the economic burden of diabetes spurs intervention at both the state and federal levels. As a student in the Harvard Center for Health Law & Policy Initiative (CHLPI) clinic this semester, I have been working on federal policy interventions in particular. We are currently drafting recommendations for actions the federal government may take to curb the rise of type 2 diabetes in the United States. Our recommendations were echoed by NPR, as we advocate the adoption of cost-saving preventative interventions and treatment methodologies. Our recommendations will also call for federal assistance in life-style interventions, such as improved access to healthy food and delivering medically-tailored meals, as well as increased coverage of services such as the Diabetes Prevention Program under Medicare and Essential Health Benefits.

The IHS Life Sciences report makes the economic case for interventions in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes. We can hope that federal policymakers will act quickly to curb the rise of the disease in the United States, or we will face an increased economic burden in the years to come. As NPR put it, “We better get cracking.”

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