While I’m extremely interested in the discussion surrounding the Affordable Care Act and how the new administration will handle it, one of the main health issues I’m interested in is the treatment of diabetes. It appears as though I’m not alone because I was one of about 50 people who showed up to the Newseum this morning for a discussion sponsored by The Hill newspaper on “Tackling Diabetes: Solutions to a Complex Disease.”
The event included several different groups of people including health care executives, people involved in the health care community, and Members of Congress working on health related issues. Although there were a variety of different political views represented on the stage, it became clear that everyone believed we’ve been making progress in treating the disease but we still have some work to do.
To give an idea of how much of an impact diabetes has, over 30 million people already diagnosed with the disease and another 84 million diagnosed with pre-diabetes. That means about one third of the patients primary care physicians see are in someway impacted by the disease. To make matters worse, doctors aren’t able to properly address the issue in the 15 minutes or so that they see a patient during a “normal” session. And leaving the patient without the proper information can have a long term impact.
Virtually everyone who spoke talked about how having more education about diabetes and solutions for treatment is not only an ethical issue but can have some financial consequences. Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY), for instance, said he’s a fiscal conservative but believes we need to invest in finding a cure because it can save a significant amount of money in the long run. As other panelists pointed out, after all, diabetes costs Americans $245 billion on an annual basis.
Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL) also highlighted how localities can be impacted by uncontrolled diabetes when patients end up going to the emergency room to treat extreme symptoms instead of going to doctors on a regular basis.
There were several different solutions discussed about how to get people help before they are so desperate they have to go to the hospital. Perhaps the most important idea was that there needs to be some engagement in managing the disease for those who have already been diagnosed. This can be done through a variety of methods, but making it available to all communities is an absolute must. As a result, the panel says there should be online groups, others that meet in person at a variety of times, and groups should definitely be community based.
Another issue brought up by Rep. Kelly was that minority groups are impacted by diabetes at a much higher rate. In fact, blacks and Hispanics are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at twice the rate of whites — and Native Americans have an even higher rate. Kelly points out that this is because there are some communities where it’s easier for someone to grab a hamburger at McDonald’s than an apple.
Other panelists pointed out that not only is healthy food hard to find in some poorer communities, but it can sometimes be difficult for people to have a safe place to exercise. To help address this, they believe it’s important to invest in urban farms, farmers markets, healthy corner stores in “food deserts” (where normal grocery stores simply aren’t around), and having trails in neighborhoods.
Perhaps the thread tying everything together is that the panels agree there should be more access to treatment and education programs that are affordable. That means investment from both private and public resources that will make diabetes manageable and potentially even find a cure in our lifetime.