Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Diabetes Projected To Become Most Costly Disease

A new study released Tuesday by the insurance company UnitedHealth projects that diabetes will cost $500 billion by 2020 — meaning it would become the nation's most expensive disease.

That massive sum would amount to a tenth of all health care spending, or $3.4 trillion in total costs over the next 10 years.

About a sixth of that money would actually go toward treating diabetes and another third would go to diabetes-related diseases and complications, like heart disease.

However, much of the the disease's burden is not due to medical expenses, but rather to associated costs like lost productivity and extra time and money spent by families for care.

Alzheimer's is another disease with overwhelming costs and many additional complicating factors, such as extra personal care, nursing homes, and unpaid time spent by spouses and children.

Joel Hay, an economist at the University of Southern California, says the costs of the two diseases could cripple the US economy.

"Alzheimer's and diabetes, if nothing changes, will bankrupt our society," says Hay.

That's a powerful and frightening projection, one that should give us all pause.

Trying to fathom the notion of billions and trillions of dollars is both mind-numbing and overwhelming. It's hard to wrap your head around numbers that large.

Despite all the warnings about diabetes and the need for a healthy diet and regular exercise, Americans seem to have ignored every bit of it. Doctors now classify diabetes as an American epidemic. That was not the case just 20 years ago, or at any time prior to that.

According to the American Diabetes Association, urgent action is needed because nearly 24 million American children and adults now have diabetes, and another 57 million Americans are at high risk of developing the disease.

If current trends continue, one-third of all children born in the United States (and half of all minority children) will face a future with diabetes.

The harsh reality is that people die from diabetes, most often from its associated diseases, like heart disease, heart failure, and organ failure. In fact, two out of every three people with diabetes will die from heart disease or stroke.

Since 1987, the death rate from diabetes has increased by 45% while the death rates from cancer, heart disease, and stroke have declined.

While 90% of diabetes cases are Type II and almost entirely preventable, Americans refuse to change their behaviors. The costs to individual families, the healthcare system, and the nation as a whole are enormous. Those expenses draw much needed money away from the treatment other diseases.

Aside from all the direct and indirect human suffering, the costs associated with diabetes could overwhelm our healthcare system and our economy by the end of this decade, draining much needed money away from other vital national needs.

Diabetes primarily affects developed nations with abundant food resources and an excess of processed foods. It is the hallmark of an overly indulged, gluttonous and indolent society.

It is the mark of a society in decline.

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