The American Diabetes Association estimates that 23.6 million children and adults in the U.S. had diagnosed or undiagnosed diabetes as of 2007. That year, the disease was diagnosed in 1.6 million individuals aged 20 and older. The direct medical costs and indirect costs of diagnosed diabetes in 2007 were $174 billion—but that figure increased to $218 billion when costs associated with prediabetes, undiagnosed diabetes, and gestational diabetes were factored in.
The AVMA Group Health and Life Insurance Trust alone paid out diabetes-related claims in 2008 totaling more than $965,000, a figure that dropped to $662,000 in 2009. However, with claims paid through August 2010 totaling more than $475,000, indications are that costs are edging up again.
But it is not just the cost or prevalence of diabetes that make the toll of the disease so staggering. It is the reality that diabetes remains a leading cause of death in the U.S. and contributes to dangerous complications such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and CNS disease. Diabetes is also one of the leading causes of adult blindness and nontraumatic lower-limb amputation.
Despite the grim statistics, there are new reasons for hope.
"Taking into consideration the advancements that are being made in the treatment and care of diabetes, particularly the technologies that are used every day to monitor glucose levels and administer insulin, I believe that within the next 10 to 20 years we may have a substantial cure for this disease," said Clark Slipher, who has type 1 diabetes and is an adviser to GHLIT from the Milliman actuarial firm.
At the 70th Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association in June, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health presented a study that found a decline in death rates from type 1 diabetes. They credited the trend to advances in treatment.
"Take advantage of regular exams and check-ups, and take control of diabetes before it takes control of you."
CLARK SLIPHER, AVMA GHLIT ACTUARIAL ADVISER
AND TYPE 1 DIABETES PATIENT
The findings were based on data from a registry of nearly 1,100 people in Allegheny County, Pa., in which type 1 diabetes was diagnosed between 1965 and 1979. As of January 2008, 26 percent of registry participants had died—a rate seven times that for an age- and sex-matched group in the general population. Participants who received the diagnosis most recently, from 1975- 1979, were only 5.5 times as likely to have died.
"The more recently a person was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, the less likely they were to die, suggesting the positive impact of advances made during the last few decades," said Aaron M. Secrest, the doctoral student who was lead author of the study.
In a study supporting the importance of physical fitness in staving off type 2 diabetes, researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles found an association between sarcopenia—low muscle mass—and adverse glucose metabolism. The study, which appeared May 26 in PLoS One, an online journal published by the Public Library of Science, gauged metabolic effects of sarcopenia in obese and nonobese individuals by performing a cross-sectional analysis of data on 14,528 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III.
The researchers concluded that "sarcopenic obesity, to a greater extent than sarcopenia or obesity alone, is strongly associated with insulin resistance in both young and old adults, underscoring the important role of low muscle mass as an independent risk factor for metabolic disease. … With the ongoing obesity epidemic in the U.S. and the disturbing increases in the incidence of obesity in children and young adults, our data suggest that we can expect to see sharp increases in sarcopenia and diabetes in the coming years. In this environment, interventions aimed at increasing muscle mass in younger ages and preventing loss of muscle mass in older ages may have the potential to reduce type 2 diabetes risk."
American Diabetes Month this November promotes regular health screenings, such as screenings covered under the GHLIT's benefits for preventive care, which can help mitigate the risk of developing diabetes and ensure early diagnosis and treatment of the disease. Slipher, for example, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes during a regular medical examination.
Slipher said, "My story is not common for someone my age, and I feel incredibly lucky that I did not have to endure a crisis to prompt diagnosis. Don't wait for a life-threatening crisis to receive the medical attention you need. Take advantage of regular exams and check-ups, and take control of diabetes before it takes control of you."
Information on GHLIT's benefits is available at www.avmaghlit.org. New York Life Insurance Co. underwrites the GHLIT insurance program. Veterinarians and veterinary students can obtain more information—including plan details, rates, exclusions, limitations, eligibility, and renewal provisions—or find a GHLIT agent by calling the Trust office at (800) 621-6360.