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Investing in Diabetes Prevention Pays Off

The diabetes epidemic continues to grow with millions of Americans and their families being affected every day. Driven by an aging population and lifestyle factors such as obesity and inactivity, the cost of medical coverage for diabetes patients is growing nearly twice as fast than for all other insured people. Not only is this having a devastating impact on individual lives, employers and insurers are incurring billions of dollars in treatment, absenteeism and lost productivity every year.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that approximately 30 million Americans or 9.3% of the population have diabetes. In addition, the CDC estimates approximately 86 million American adults – 1 in 3 – have prediabetes, a precursor to full-blown type 2 diabetes. With prediabetes, blood glucose levels are elevated but are not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Without treatment, prediabetics are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes within 5 years and are also at increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and damage to their eyes, kidneys and nerves.

Is there anything employers can do to help? Fortunately, there are steps you can take that can lead to healthier employees and lower costs.

Provide easy access to primary care

Early treatment is important to delay or prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes and mitigate early damage to organs and blood vessels. Primary care is the first line of defense for adults at risk. Not only will regular blood testing lead to earlier diagnosis, a physician can monitor the progression of the disease and provide counseling, support and medication.

Generously cover pre-diabetic medications and other treatment

Making it easy for people diagnosed with prediabetic conditions to get the medications and other support they need to manage their condition leads to better health outcomes. For instance, a study from the CDC and National Institute for Health (NIH) found that participants who took Metformin had a 31% reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to the control group. Covering these and other medications, providing access to nutrition counseling, and educating at-risk adults can all help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Two popular chains, Meijer and Publix, actually dispense Metformin at no cost with a prescription.

Implement workplace wellness and lifestyle change programs

The most important thing a prediabetic can do is to focus on healthy lifestyle changes. Prediabetics who lose weight by eating healthier and being more active reduce their risk of getting type 2 diabetes by 50%. Healthy workers are more productive and miss fewer days of work. Employers that offer programs to encourage wellness and physical fitness can potentially reduce health care costs and insurance premiums. According to a 2010 study, for every dollar spent on such programs, there is an estimated decrease in medical costs of about $3.27 and a reduction in absenteeism costs of about $2.73.

How can I save money today?

1. Offer onsite or easily-accessible biometric screenings to all of your employees to identify those with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc.

2. Offer a small incentive to encourage participation.

3. Explore telemedicine options such as Teladoc and Doc on Demand. Many insurance carries include these tools and they generally have low or no cost sharing.

4. Educate your employees about where they can get free or nearly free Metformin.

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Diabetes Statistics Report: Estimates of Diabetes and Its Burden in the United States, 2014. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services; 2014.

Tabák AG, Herder C, Rathmann W, Brunner EJ, Kivimäki M. Prediabetes: a high-risk state for diabetes development. Lancet. 2012. June 22;379(9833):2279–90.

Baicker K, Cutler D, Song Z. Workplace Wellness Programs Can Generate Savings. Health Affairs. 2010;29(2):304–311. Kramer M, Molenaar D, Arena V, et al. Improving Employee Health: Evaluation of a Worksite Lifestyle Change Program to Decrease Risk Factors for Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease. Journal of occupational and environmental medicine / American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 2015;57(3):284-291. doi:10.1097/JOM.0000000000000350.

Kramer M, Molenaar D, Arena V, et al. Improving Employee Health: Evaluation of a Worksite Lifestyle Change Program to Decrease Risk Factors for Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease. Journal of occupational and environmental medicine / American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 2015;57(3):284-291. doi:10.1097/JOM.0000000000000350.

Reduction in the Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes with Lifestyle Intervention or Metformin Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group*N Engl J Med 2002; 346:393-403February 7, 2002DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa012512.