WASHINGTON – A new report estimates that the cost of the growing diabetes epidemic in the U.S. increased 41 percent from 2007 to 2012, accounting for $245 billion in spending nationwide last year, including $1.2 billion in Maine.

The study, released Wednesday by the American Diabetes Association, said that Americans diagnosed with diabetes now consume $1 out of every $5 spent on health care and, on average, cost twice as much to care for than people without the disorder.

The report comes as the debate on Capitol Hill about the cost of Medicare and Medicaid is rising in both pitch and urgency.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire – co-chairs of the Senate Diabetes Caucus – said the report should be a call to action.

“Type II diabetes has become a health problem of epidemic proportions,” Collins said during a press conference. “Left unchecked it will overwhelm our health care system, bankrupt both Medicare and Medicaid and could actually lower the average life expectancy of Americans for the first time in more than a century.”

An estimated 22 million to 26 million children and adults in the U.S have diabetes, with another 79 million considered at risk with “pre-diabetes,” according to the American Diabetes Association. Those numbers are rising as the baby-boomer generation ages and obesity rates for all Americans – especially children – rise due to poor eating habits and lack of exercise.

The association estimated that health care spending on diabetes rose from $174 million in 2004 to $245 million in 2012. The study looked at both direct medical costs for treating diabetes – much of which is consumed by costly hospital visits for the seriously ill — as well as reduced productivity.

The study projected that nearly 101,000 Mainers – 7.5 percent of the population – are dealing with diabetes at a cost of $1.2 billion. That ties Maine for 14th among states with the highest rates.

Speakers at Wednesday’s event said the predominant growth has been in Type II diabetes, which is more common and is often linked to eating and lifestyle. Type II typically occurred later in life, but the number of children being diagnosed with that form of the disease is also rising, and those cases tend to be more aggressive and challenging to treat, said Dr. Judith Fradkin, director of the division at the National Institutes of Health that handles diabetes.

While the use of outpatient treatment appears to be helping slow the spending growth, speakers said more resources need to be spent on helping people prevent diabetes and on research to better treat the disease. Another key is increasing access to health care for high-risk populations, such as minorities and American Indian communities.

“The differences in terms of access and coverage of care . . . I think are remarkable,” said Dr. Robert Ratner, chief scientific and medical officer at the American Diabetes Association.

“We are seeing improvements in outcomes but only in those patients and individuals with diabetes who can actually get health care. So the discrepancies in emergency department visits, the discrepancy in who is actually getting useful medication becomes crucially important.”

 

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